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Focus Groups

Focus Groups. Definition A focus group exercise consists in a facilitated discussion on a focal topic among a small group of people. The aim is to gain insight into: the group’s norms, meanings, and values; the underlying factors that may shape them;

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Focus Groups

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  1. Focus Groups • Definition • A focus group exercise consists in a facilitated discussion on a focal topic among a small group of people. • The aim is to gain insight into: • the group’s norms, meanings, and values; • the underlying factors that may shape them; • and even engage the group with a participative research or policy process • This technique has been widely used in marketing since the 70s just to elicit people preferences. Other variants are e-focus groups (via internet) and Integrated Assessment (IA)-focus groups, a more policy-oriented procedure Procedure FG average size is 6-8 participants (as a group) plus a facilitator, and last 11/2 -2 hours. The facilitator seeks a focused interaction, which is audio/video recorded. Ideally, a full range of viewpoints should be raised within the group. Transcripts are systematically analysed. An example The EU-funded project PABE (Public Perceptions of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Europe) used two-rounds FGs as part of a multi-method design including in-depth interviews and national workshops with key actors. The main purpose was to study underlying frameworks of meaning and interconnections through which members of the public in shape their views of GMOs. The research reveals what usually remains invisible or under-researched when using solely quantitative methods like Eurobarometer (where surface expressions of acceptance, for instance, hides underlying concerns). The project shows how wider social dimensions, such as lifestyle orientations or institutional contexts are entangled with risk perceptions. Institutional behaviour appears to be a crucial factor. The researchers found, unexpectedly, few differences between the countries studied, since sharing a similar institutional approach to GMOs at the time. Facilitator role At the difference of a controller or an ethnographer, the facilitator encourages and allows to the different positions to express, and be clarified. The facilitator promotes deeper exploration with the respondents own categorisations. He/she should avoid over-domination by particular individual members. The facilitator introduces and debriefs also the experience • Rationale • Opinions are frequently more complex than quantitative methods can reflect: context-dependent, ambiguous, multi-layered… Often, they are even shaped in the very act of thinking with others. Focus Groups (FG) allows to deal with this interactive nature of the process of opinion building and helps to articulate what is underlying or implicit; to explore how people think and why they think as they do. Furthermore, since it is the very respondent who identifies the processes at work in independently driving interaction with peers, FG prevents against researchers’ artefacts. • + • Documenting the processes through which groups meanings are shaped, elaborated and applied, as an alternative to ethnography • Let room for unanticipated topics or arguments, and new research concepts • – • Representativity as such cannot be claimed, but saturation by widening the diversity of participants and conducting additional FG may be envisioned • Individual behaviour and group’s deviances are more likely underreported than, for example, in in-depth interviews • Prompts serve as an ice-breaker, but mainly to keep on focus : open-ended questions, ranking exercises, describing cards, comment on news or other media support, vignette, photos interpretation… An abridged version of the first-round FG protocol of the PABE project Part 1 – INTRODUCTION (10 minutes) 1.1 Introduction by moderator 1.2 Warm-up question to participants: "Will you each introduce yourself and say a little about who is responsible for buying and preparing food in your household." Part 2 – FOOD (15-20 minutes) "Thinking about the changes that have taken place in the way that food is produced, would you each think of one way in which food has changed for the better and one aspect that you are not happy about or which has caused you concern." (Go around the room) "What do you feel has been gained and what has been lost as a result of these changes?". "Where do you see these changes heading? Where do you think the food industry will be in ten years time?" Part 3 –GM CROPS AND FOODS (15 minutes) "What images or associations does the term 'genetically modified food' raise for you?" Make a list and probe to find out what associations and meanings images have. Part 4 –EXAMPLES OF GM FOODS (35-40 minutes) "Let's look at some of the food products that might use these genetically modified crops." Show examples on display board and discussion Probe: If labelling not raised spontaneously move onto labelling by asking: Do you think such products should be labelled? Why? Part 5 – TRUST (20 minutes) "Now we are going to talk about genetically modified maize again: the type that has been modified to be resistant to an insect pest. This is how some people might talk about the new product." General discussion Part 6 – PUBLIC PARTICIPATION AND AGENCY (10 minutes) "Do you feel that, at present, members of the public have any role or influence in making decisions about these new developments?" Part 7 – FEEDBACK AND CLOSE (5 minutes) • Practicalities • A pilot FG can be useful in order to pre-test the exercise and even to construct or refine the prompts • FG are a rather time consuming and labour intensive procedure. A 90-minutes standard FG means 8 hours for audio-transcription and 100 pages to be analysed. Think, therefore, to limit the number of groups and participants to the bare minimum. The more segmented the groups, the more groups will be necessary • Payment: at least an attendance allowance (25-40 euro), and/or psychological incentives • Reconvening exactly the same group may be difficult but later groups can also be informed by experiences in earlier ones and different groups can intervene and inform at different levels • Deliberate overecruitment must be considered. Think also to reminders. • Applicability • FG are usually found in a multi-method design, to complement, • prepare for, or extend other work. For example, in the following functions: • Exploratory: to generate preliminary information on new or under-researched norms concepts and values • Interpretative aid or test of survey findings • Extended peer review, critical reappraisal • Public perceptions of complex issues To go further… PABE: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/depts/ieppp/pabe/docs.html; http://www.tc.umn.edu/~rkrueger/focus_analysis.html; R. Barbour and J. Kitzinger (eds.) (1999): Developing Focus Groups Research: Politics, Theory and Practice, London: Sage; M. Bloor, J. Frankland, M. Thomas and K. Robson (2001): Focus Groups in Social Research, London: Sage Luis Aparicio, INRA-TSV Poster edited by Luis Aparicio and Delphine Ducoulombier

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