Focus Groups Are… • Directed group discussions about topics of interest • The group is usually not naturally-occurring • Usually strangers recruited by the researcher • Chosen non-randomly to fit a profile
Origins • Social science research in the 1930s and 1940s • Frustrated by the limits of survey research • Popularized by private marketing firms from 1950 – 1980 • Boxed cake mix research • Academic revival • Good way to begin exploring a topic • Virtual focus groups Morgan (1998) Focus Group Guidebook
The nature of focus groups • They usually consist of 6-12 members • Members sit around a table with a moderator at one end • The moderator directs the discussion, encouraging all members to contribute and leading the group through the discussion
Why not just conduct depth interviews? • Supporters of focus groups say that participants open up more in focus groups • They feel more comfortable with others in the same position being asked the same questions
Focus group members may bounce ideas off each other and trigger discussion where any individual might not have come up with the topic/ideas • Downside: participants may appear to adopt ideas they really don’t support and have not closely considered before
Recruiting • Nonrepresentative samples • Time to participate • Knowledge of focus group topic • Targeted population • Homogeneous vs. Heterogeneous • Homogeneous groups tend to be more willing to share their feelings • Heterogeneous groups may spark more ideas Schutt (2004) Investigating the Social World
Game Day • Focus groups tend to last 1 to 2 hrs • Moderator works off a prepared script • Introduction • Overview of topic • Ground rules • Opening question round robin • Follow up • Summary question – “So you’re saying…” • Final question – “Have we missed anything?” • Transition to next topic Krueger (1994) Focus Groups
Moderator roles • The seeker of wisdom • The enlightened novice • The expert consultant • The challenger • The referee • The writer • The therapist A good moderator draws out answers and does not impose views on the group. Krueger (1994) Focus Groups
Moderator skills • Put people at ease • Acknowledge the situation (two-way mirror, etc.) • Keep the conversation moving • Re-energize the conversation when things get slow • Get out of the way when people are on a roll • Direct the conversation without undermining spontaneity, shutting off important discussion
Maintain a positive mood in the group • Dig deep—don’t let participants off with top-of-mind or thoughtless answers • But don’t anger or insult people
How focus group participants act • Non-response • A number of participants will not want to give their own unique perspective or to talk about themselves or their loved ones • It is the responsibility of the moderator to draw them out • Talking too much • Moderator must control assertive respondents without appearing hostile, overbearing • If moderator is unsuccessful, predetermined method of removal
Participants often will assume certain roles • Interpreter • Group representative • Overbearing boss • Emotional supporter • One of the responsibilities of the moderator is to prevent role-taking and to gain valid responses from all group members
How many focus groups should be conducted? • Usually 2 to 3 will provide adequate information for a relatively straightforward set of questions or to generate interesting ideas to follow up on • For scholarly study or extensive commercial analysis: saturation • Continue until you are not gaining new information worth another group Schutt (2004) Investigating the Social World
Analysis • Most analyses rely on multiple readings of notes and transcripts • Review of tapes for non-verbals as well • Attempt to identify ideas that • Are heavily supported • Are unexpected • Are insightful • Provide new ways of approaching problems Krueger (1994) Focus Groups
Analysis • Look for common themes • Look for widely agreed-upon ideas • Look for the significant disagreements • Entertain alternative explanations • Don’t prematurely close off non-preferred explanations for your findings • Good analysis takes time
Strengths of focus groups • Focus groups are flexible. • Participants can be exposed to video, audio, etc. A number of types of responses can be gathered, etc. • Focus groups provide large amounts of information from a small number of respondents in a relatively short time. • They can generate important insights into little-understood topics.
Strengths of focus groups • They help with understanding group dynamics. Researchers can observe interactions among participants. • Participants and interviewers are on a relatively even footing. • Unanticipated topics can be explored as they arise.
Strengths of focus groups • Complex behavior and motives can be investigated.
Weaknesses of focus groups • The quality depends heavily on the skills of the moderator and analyst • Poor data quality/bias • Interpretation may be of low quality or biased • Analyses may be difficult and time consuming • Participation is voluntary so group members may have to be offered incentives
Weaknesses of focus groups • Dominant personalities may overpower others • The situation is artificial • Volunteer samples mean the findings may not be generalizable