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Focus Groups Shape a Useful Website

Update: As of November 2020, the website is live! Please visit

Post Date: July 22, 2019

In designing the Chronicle website to be a useful tool, the IMH team has imagined who would use it and why. We wondered . . .

  • Will teachers find new information that will show a side of American history that textbooks have neglected?
  • How can descendants of enslaved people who worked with horses find out more about their ancestor’s life?
  • Where would a genealogist begin her search for family records?
  • What would catch a student’s interest and keep them engaged in learning more about careers in the horse industry?
  • How can college students contribute to the research, or use the Chronicle to further their studies?
  • Who is not represented that is working in the horse industry today, and how can we make it easy for them to share their own stories?
  • How can we bring awareness to the archives at other institutions and make them more accessible to everyone?

We’ve had a lot of help answering these questions. Individuals and groups have shared their needs, what they like and dislike about similar sites, and voiced their concerns and hopes for the Chronicle. Museum staff, advisory committee members, and consultants have held a variety of formal meetings and informal conversations. 

Consolidating all the possible types of people who will use the website makes it easier to translate their ideas and suggestions into a web development plan. Kate Haley Goldman, an audience evaluation strategist, conducted focus groups with four different types of audiences: descendants, genealogists, teachers, and scholars. 


Members of Phoenix Rising Lex gather to give input on the Chronicle before it is built

Consultant Kate Haley Goldman and members of Phoenix Rising gather to share their concerns and ideas for the website.

Phoenix Rising Lex hosted the focus group for descendants, which included community members who have lived the life experiences, seen the changes in the horse industry over the past century, and have very personal connections with this project. Some participants have conducted in-depth research and are local experts on the importance of the horse industry in the very neighborhood where the meeting was held. Many of them have memories they want to preserve and pass to the next generation. We learned that trust matters most to them, and their input has shaped the development of the project since its beginning. 


Logo for African American Genealogy Group of Kentucky, hands breaking chain, state of KY in blue and gold

The African American Genealogist Group of Kentucky coordinated the genealogist discussion via conference call. We learned that they pay close attention to the validity of sources, and care about connecting with and learning from each other. They are acutely aware of how little is known about African Americans throughout history, particularly in professions such as equine. They may not have a strong connection with the museum yet, and they want to protect their communities from misappropriation of their information. Descendants and genealogists both highlighted areas that the museum can work to improve as we build stronger relationships over time.


Teachers meet to provide ideas for educational resources 

Ashlee Chilton briefs teachers on the types of activities the museum currently offers in preparation for discussing the Chronicle website.

IMH invited teachers to the park to learn about its educational activities, visit the Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf exhibit, and provide direction on making the Chronicle website as useful as possible for K-12 teachers and students. They immediately made connections in multiple subject areas, including but not limited to social studies. The importance of career connections was emphasized, along with a sensitivity to age-appropriate content. Students will be more engaged and interested in the site if it includes short videos and relatable human stories. With the addition of teaching modules, they expect this website will become a model to inspire other museums and institutions to reach educators with compelling and complex topics.


Scholarly advisors provide best practices 

Museum leaders, archivists and professors share best practices for making technology accessible and inclusive.

Historians, librarians, researchers and professors compose our project advisory committee. They discussed many websites that present hidden history in a more accessible way, especially those that uncover slave records and migration patterns. Like the other audience groups, scholars also want to put the information into context, connecting human stories and documented facts with the bigger picture of American history. They are also concerned about the validity of sources and removing barriers to information. They understand the importance of hearing stories of everyday lives, not just those who have a claim to fame. 

This project is collaborative in more ways. All of the audience groups are also potential contributors. Whether it’s a personal narrative, a recording of an elder’s life story, or newly-discovered archives, by digitizing and uploading them to the website, the Chronicle will grow on its users terms. 

Do you want to help shape the website? This initial phase of audience research may be finished, but there’s more decisions to be made and ideas to include. The web development team at Message Agency is putting together prototypes for testing their designs, and your feedback will shape the final product. Watch for opportunities to test the website.

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This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Institute of Museum and Library Services