This procedure is tailored for volunteer groups in general. In business SWOT’s the data collected is also often filtered through a Mckinsey 7-S framework model for further refinement and attempts to predict the total picture of the business. The McKinsey 7-S is for soft skills evaluation of management and would be practical for a well organized volunteer group with a national organization with a head quarters and formal structure. This is not what the empowered volunteer will be engaging in however. So for our purposes we will just focus on the SWOT. I simply want you to understand that for a formal business analysis, much more detail and work goes into the effort and the results can be much more focused.
Please note however, the empowered volunteer is in reality employing a strategy most closely aligned with the learning process called MOUND, which stands for “Middle, Out, Up, ‘n‘ Down. The empowered volunteer often is going to be self motivated and in many cases will hear or read this and other posts and react by trying to motivate his leadership to appoint him or her to this position. This working from the middle (in business it would be middle management) and then when things are ready for small changes you work your way up by validating the changes as you go and if that still holds validity for your efforts the new strategy can be driven down through the rank and file as a new policy. Thus the empowered volunteer can be if done correctly the driver for a new set of directions or even new policies for the group and potentially for the entire organization to take on if the pilot case justifies the changes.
Most groups who employ the empowered volunteer optimally will want to start with a focus group before attempting to collect the data for a SWOT analysis. The group should be small and diverse. So sprinkle in some various ages and various experience in the group. If ladies are in this group, ensure they are represented in proportion to their population in the group as a whole.
For a focus group a leader must ensure all participants feel valued and able to contribute without fear of ridicule or reprisal. This is critical. Creativity is usually killed by fear. Some groups work better with the SWOT descriptions disclosed early so that they can address their fear of an unknown or new item before the day of the group meeting.
Other members may prefer to wing it with the information fresh and their efforts spontaneous. If the group membership is business wise, more than likely they will be familiar with SWOT’s or at least familiar with other business patterns that use similar traits. If the group has less experience with such strategies then most likely a short written notice for those selected to participate would be in order. They can research the SWOT strategy for themselves and prepare for what is expected of them.
Facilitating a focus group attempting to compile a list for a SWOT analysis data gathering effort is a skill not every one has. Take care not to lead in such a way as to get what you expect, a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts. The facilitator needs to lead the effort without directing the effort or otherwise influencing the results. The purpose of the focus group is to compile the list of questions to be presented to the population as a whole, usually less than 25 which when collected and tabulated provide the group leadership with directions to steer the empowered volunteer or other task forces as necessary.
For individuals with experience in the Quality Fields or businesses that have quality programs, the leadership receiving the focus groups’s report is roughly the equivalent of a Steering Committee. Steering committees have the purse strings and are empowered to act on the information gleaned from the data collection process. The empowered volunteer can report to the steering committee or to a leader appointed between the steering committee and the empowered volunteer.
Focus groups can do each section of the SWOT analysis collectively and openly or they can break into smaller groups and brainstorm an individual section. The group leader needs to be careful if they allow the individual sections that one group doesn’t somehow come to be dominated by an individual with an agenda! Also care must be taken not to prioritize one section of the SWAT analysis over another. They are to be treated equally if the results are to be trusted.
Ensure that all ideas generated are collected and maintained. This is very important. If all ideas are collected and considered, the participants can’t find themselves invalidated by an individual with an agenda. While ideas do sort out eventually into categories, this stage is not the place to do it. It doesn’t matter if ideas overlap or are redundant. That can be taken care of later. The trust for the group that all ideas carry weight is paramount.
Ensure that all participants are aware that one idea or issue can be seen under multiple parts of SWOT segments. One idea could be a threat and an opportunity. If this happens, the point can reference or justify the position by using and example so that whatever the underlying issues is can be referenced and the situation can be sorted out for validity. Just get the data down so that it is listed and properly supported.
Keep the data in its raw state for the focus group. Do not count things or try to sort the raw data. This will hinder those who want to jump ahead and leap into the analysis phase. They will try but it is much harder with only raw ideas not yet placed into individual questions.
At this point, the group leadership needs to decide if the focus group will be tasked to gather the SWOT sections into questions for the formal questionnaire or if the process should be conducted by a leadership task force. I would suggest that most of the time the focus groups “reward” is to participate in the initial listing of questions. They see results for their efforts. It should be understood that the questions will be filtered through a quality check for accuracy and perhaps even a lawyer check if necessary to avoid issues not initially seen by the focus group.
The steering committee should choose the questions. They should ensure they can justify that the data drove each and every question. If you received a high proportion of ideas on several SWOT sections about an issue, take care not to assume that it is only an issue from one direction. It may take two questions from different perspectives to get to the data needed to take action and repair an issue.
Once the formalities are set and the questions verified and sanctified by the necessary people send the questionnaire out for the membership to fill out. Ensure that communication is provided on the purpose and that the results will only be seen by the rank and file in a collective basis, no individual reports will be disclosed. Do everything you can to get 100% participation. Unless your groups is too large and spread out to poll, get this part done.
Collect the filled out reports. If possible have the questions, which have been as much as possible positioned in an objective way, that is the answers are a, b, c, or some other type of replies that can be tabulated. If you had to have a final part where a write in statement was collected, hopefully this can be collected in a private way too. Bottom line, collect the data with as few members having to do more than just data entry if that is even necessary. Automate this part if you can. Cut and paste the statements if possible rather then retype them. Do your best to keep the transfer of the raw collected data pure so that no one person can goof in a data transfer.
If there are people who have data collection experience in your group, Quality types with titles like Black Belt or members of the American Society of Quality (ASQ) for instance, finance types or even accounting professionals this would likely be a place where they would be very helpful.
Whoever tabulates the data must be seen as trustworthy. Often this could involve board members if you have them. If it involves multiple members, they must all be seen as trustworthy. Present the data in an organized and easily digestible manor to the steering committee or leadership.
Then for the first time the leader of the group who will direct the empowered volunteer should review the results. Trends and issues should emerge from the data presentation. The new eyes, not from the data tabulation or hopefully not from the focus group look at the data results and decide what are the best directions, putting a time table and other factors into a time line if necessary.
The empowered volunteer does not have to have all of this data supporting him or her. But if this method is done, even if some parts of the process are messy, the end result should be a long range project where efforts by members will yield results. The empowered volunteer can operate in a less structured way, as a kind of marketing point person if you will. In the next section I will provide details for that kind of effort. This path is by far the better one if it can be done. The information gathered if the integrity of the process is valid will be useful for years to come. Use the results wisely.