Focus Groups Sherry Woosley, Ph.D. Associate Director of Institutional Effectiveness Academic Assessment & Institutional Research firstname.lastname@example.org 5-5976 *Special thanks to Amanda Knerr who helped to write the original presentation about conducting focus groups.
Index Card Exercise • On the index card, write a word or phrase to describe your previous experiences with focus groups. • Go around your circle and share what you have written.
What is a focus group? • Focus groups are group discussions where the facilitator supplies the topics and monitors the discussion. • The purpose is to gather information about a specific (or focused) topic in a group environment, allowing for discussion and interaction by participants.
Advantages of Focus Groups • Relatively low cost • Quick results • Flexible and dynamic • More comfortable for participants than individual interviews • Interactions generate more discussion • Qualitative nature of data
Disadvantages of Focus Groups • Difficult to assemble • Groups can influence individual responses • Small numbers of participants limit generalizability • Dependent on the skills of the facilitator • Qualitative nature of data
Focus groups should be used: • To examine attitudes and opinions • To explore why opinions are held • To identify strengths and weaknesses of programs • To interpret results from other assessment projects • To provide information for designing surveys
Focus groups should not be used: • For assessment that requires statistical projections or statistically representative data • In situations where participants are not comfortable with each other • In situations that are emotionally charged • In situations where focus groups imply commitments
Envisioning the Purpose • Determine what you want to know • Link the topic of the focus group with goals and objectives • Set topic boundaries (not too broad or specific) • Think about how you want to USE the information
Uses of Focus Group Information • Marketing – quotes can be powerful tools • Identifying strengths and weaknesses of program or services for improvement of services • Identifying the needs of targeted populations • Showing the impact of programs using participant perspectives
Developing Questions and Exercises (Protocol) • Concrete, specific, simple and open-ended • Use phrases such as “what prompted you,” “what influenced you,” or “what features” instead of “why” • Use exercises – index cards, brainstorming, sentence completion, etc. • Consider the flow (general to more specific)
Choosing a Facilitator • “The quality of the moderator is the most important element that determines the ultimate usefulness of the output of focus group research.” (Greenbaum, 1988,p.ix) • “Moderating a focus group might seem easy, but it requires mental discipline, careful preparation, and group interaction skills.” (Krueger, 1993, p.73)
Moderator Skills Others • Time management • Diplomacy • Awareness and control over personal reactions • Energy (Greenbaum, 1988) • Quick learner • A “friendly” leader • Knowledgeable but not all-knowing • Excellent memory • Good listener • A facilitator, not a performer • Flexible • Empathetic • A “big picture” thinker • Good writer (Kreuger, 1998b) • Understanding of group process • Curiosity • Communication skills • Friendliness and sense of humor • Interest in people • Openness to new ideas • Listening skills
Things to Consider When Choosing a Moderator • Moderator’s skills • Moderator’s experience • Appropriateness for the topic • Appropriateness for the participants • Connection to the topic or the participants
Soliciting Participants • Determine selection criteria based on the purpose of the project • Choose relatively homogeneous groups that will feel comfortable talking to each other • Aim for 8 to 15 participants per group • Plan for more than one group • Invite more participants than you need
Determining Appropriate Incentives • Consider the purpose of the project • Consider target participants • Consider the convenience or inconvenience to the participant • Incentives and rewards examples • Free food • Monetary rewards • Coupons
Choosing a Location • Convenience for participants • Availability and accessibility • Comfortable seating arrangements • Free from distractions
Selecting Appropriate Recording Techniques • Audio recording, video recording, or written note taking • Consider participant reactions • Consider resources and support • Have a back up plan
Examples of Note TakingQuestion: What are your expectations of the RA? Summary • RA is too involved. I want the RA to leave us alone. • RA is good. Verbatim • My RA tries to get too involved. The RA is always coming around telling us about things three times. The RA tries to give you almost a guilt trip if you don’t want to come to something. I wish the RA would leave us alone more. • My RA is a good guy. He comes around once and tells us about activities, then he lets us do our thing.
Getting Ready on the Spot • Arrange the seating • Find a place for the note taker • Choose facilitator seat • Check supplies • Handle other concerns… • Greet guests
Recording Techniques • Test and practice any technique • Written notes • Verbatim • Organize by focus group protocol • Write up as soon as possible • Audio or verbal tapes • Transcribe as soon as possible
Introduction • Should include: • A brief welcome • An overview of the topic • Some guidelines or ground rules • An opening question or exercise • Sets the tone for the group • Should also explain recording devices, confidentiality, and the role of the facilitator
Facilitating • Listening – active listening • Time management • Probe for further information • Pick up nonverbal clues and draw out information • Follow up with unclear statements
Functions of a Facilitator • Listen and learn • Set and maintain the tone • Encourage participation • Keep the group on topic and on time
Facility Difficulties • Distractions • Plan ahead (for example, close doors and windows to eliminate noise) • If necessary, change rooms before you start • Recording devices • Have a back up plan • Have a note taker
Participant Difficulties • Dominant group member • Use the person as a starting point • Use this as an opportunity to encourage a variety of opinions “John said ….. Do you agree or is your experience different?” • Quiet or shy group member • Encourage with eye contact, call on the person by name, and use follow up questions
Making Sense of Notes • Summarize key ideas: • Find the BIG ideas • Examine the participants’ choice of words • Consider the group context • Look for consistency among groups and group members • Categories should come from the language of the notes • Use quotes to illustrate main ideas
Sample Reporting Overall Conclusions The students seemed more familiar with the marketing than the parents did. The students focused on two things: the variety and strength of programs at Ball State and the “smallness” of Ball State. And although some were reluctant to praise the marketing, many of them indicated the marketing had affected their decisions. The parents seemed pleased that Ball State was presenting itself as an institution with an academic focus and many programs. “The marketing did influence me. It showed me that Ball State was smaller and gave me the sense of a community.” – Student “The marketing told me about all the options so I know it’s not a mistake to send my son here even if he changes his mind about his major.” – Parent
Evaluating the Entire Process • Did you get the information you wanted? • Evaluate protocol, facilitator, participant selection, incentives, data recording techniques, facility, sharing format, etc. • Recommend changes for the process • Keep notes for next time!
For Further Reading: • Greenbaum, T.L. (1988) The Practical Handbook and Guide to Focus Group Research. • Greenbaum, T.L. (2000) Moderating Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Group Facilitation. • Krueger, R.A. (1994) Focus Groups A Practical Guide For Applied Research. • Morgan, D.L. (1993) Successful Focus Groups: Advancing the State of the Art. • Vaugh, Schumm, & Sinagub (1996) Focus Group Interviews in Education and Psychology. • Focus Group Kit. (1998). Sage Publications.