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Focus Groups

Focus groups are moderated discussions among a purposefully selected group of individuals. Focus groups are not designed to provide consensus regarding the issue at hand, but instead are used to elicit new insights and understanding from participants on the issue by allowing participants to engage in dynamic conversation with each other and build off of each other's ideas.

far fa-dollar-sign fa-sm Budget (e.g. personnel, space, equipment) Low Medium High far fa-user-clock Time per interaction I expect to engage stakeholders for... An hour or less Half a day A full day far fa-calendar-check Number of interactions I expect to interact with stakeholders... 1-2 times Appx. 5 times 10+ times Engagement Purposes far fa-scrubber Identify and explore new perspectives or understanding far fa-scrubber Identify which topics are most important to stakeholders far fa-scrubber Develop research questions relevant to stakeholders far fa-scrubber Select outcomes and measures that matter to stakeholders far fa-scrubber Investigate best ways to successfully implement a study, based on stakeholder insights far fa-clock Time Frame

2-3 months to prepare; 1-2 hours to conduct

fal fa-tasks-alt Workload LIGHT MEDIUM HEAVY
Appropriate Applications More useful for: far fa-scrubber Explore diverse perspectives far fa-scrubber Understanding how people interact and discuss a certain issue far fa-scrubber Gathering a range of opinions or ideas that people have about a topic far fa-scrubber Insight into similarities and differences of people's perspectives based on social group far fa-scrubber Providing a safe environment for people from the same background who may not feel comfortable in a one-on-one interview (e.g. minority groups) far fa-scrubber Understanding community dynamics far fa-scrubber Collecting data in a limited time frame far fa-scrubber Generating a lot of information in a short amount of time Less useful for: far fa-scrubber Discussing sensitive topics far fa-scrubber Groups where a power balance may exist far fa-scrubber Topics about which people may have strong or opposing opinions far fa-scrubber Producing findings generalizable to the larger population Key Characteristics Resources Needed fas fa-money-bill-waveMoney far fa-scrubber Participant incentives far fa-scrubber Reimbursement for travel far fa-scrubber Food and refreshments during event far fa-scrubber Childcare (if needed) fas fa-paperclipMaterials and Resources far fa-scrubber Neutral and accessible setting with sufficient space and chairs for focus group participants far fa-scrubber Tape recorder far fa-scrubber Transcription services (if using tape recorder) far fa-scrubber Name badges far fa-scrubber Flip chart far fa-scrubber Markers far fa-scrubber Sign-in sheets far fa-scrubber Pens fas fa-usersPersonnel far fa-scrubber ~5-10 participants far fa-scrubber Experienced moderator/facilitator far fa-scrubber Notetaker/assistant moderator to monitor recording equipment and handle other logistics far fa-scrubber Qualitative analyst far fa-scrubber Optional: Qualitative data analysis software such as ATLAS.ti How To Identify an experienced moderator and a note-taker who are also knowledgeable about the topic. Decide who should be invited, keeping in mind you want the most representative sample possible. Consider what incentives you will use, if any.
  1. This could be a monetary incentive, lunch and refreshments, a future training opportunity, or an item they can take home.
Choose a location, day, time, and duration for your focus group. Decide if you will need to conduct more than one.
  1. When deciding time and place, be sure to take into consideration who you are inviting - for example, if you may not want to hold a focus group of high schoolers during the school day, unless you have arranged something with the school.
  2. Reserve the venue in advance if needed.
Develop open-ended questions that will help you to understand the issue at hand. See page 6 of for a guide to developing focus group questions.
  1. You also may want to develop a survey to collect participant demographics if this is information you are interested in.
Develop a consent form for participants and seek IRB approval if needed. Recruit 5-10 participants.
  1. Keep in mind that you may want to invite 10-20% more in anticipation of potential no-shows, but be careful not to end up with more than 10 participants
Make sure that you have all the equipment and supplies you need and that you have prepped the incentives (if using). Develop ground rules for the group; e.g., "Only one person may speak at a time", "Listen respectfully to others even if you disagree", etc. (1-2 weeks before) Remind participants by sending out emails or letters, or calling them directly. Conduct the focus group:
  1. As participants arrive, have them fill out consent forms and complete demographic surveys if using.
  2. Thank participants for coming.
  3. Have the facilitator review the purpose of the focus group and explain the ground rules.
  4. The facilitator then starts with an opening question, usually something very general to help break the ice.
  5. The facilitator then continues with the rest of the questions, making sure that all participants have the opportunity to be heard.
  6. During the focus group, the note taker should be writing down key points and noting visual cues like body language.
  7. Once all of the questions have been discussed, the facilitator should ask if anyone has any final comments to make.
  8. Thank the group for coming and let the participants know what your next steps are and what they can expect next, such as how you plan on sharing the results with them.
Analyze the data
  1. Start by having the note taker review and clean up their notes immediately following the focus group, so that the events of the day are still fresh in their memory.
  2. Upload any recordings and have them transcribed.
  3. Someone skilled in qualitative analysis should code the notes and transcripts for themes and patterns.
  4. Have multiple people review the results independently, and then compare interpretations and conclusions.
Share results with participants
  1. This can be done via phone, snail mail, or email, or you could even reconvene the group to discuss findings in person.
Put your results to use.
Tips Remember that the facilitator/moderator's job is "to elicit opinion, and not judge it. All opinions should be respected". If using a tape recorder, it may be useful to have a backup one also recording in case one fails or the recording is accidentally deleted. Variations Virtual focus groups can be held using software such as Zoom or Skype. Examples References / Other Resources Liamputtong, P. (2011). Focus group methodology: Principles and practice. London, : SAGE Publications Ltd doi: 10.4135/9781473957657

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