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Focus Groups

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  1. Focus Groups “ A carefully planned discussion designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, nonthreatening environment .” Krueger, 1988. Focus groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research, Sage Publications. pg 18.

  2. Check your focus group IQ! Answer the following questions. Then check your responses with answers on the following slides. • What makes a focus group a focus group? • Why would I want to use a focus group? • Who participates in a focus group? • How is a focus group conducted? • How many groups are needed? • What do you do with all the information that you get? Answers and more follow

  3. 1. What makes a focus group a focus group? A focus group is actually an interview – a structured small group interview It is focused in two ways: Select individuals participate who are similar to each other as determined by the purpose of the study The information that is collected is focused on a particular topic, guided by a set of focused questions. Questions are predetermined and sequenced, often moving from general to more specific questions

  4. What a focus group is not… • A nominal group or Delphi process that seeks to build consensus • A community forum • A legal hearing or public testimony • A panel discussion about a topic or issue • A study group

  5. 2. Why would I want to use a focus group? • To understand what youth think, their needs, motivations, attitudes, values • To understand the logic and rational surrounding their decisions • To better understand what youth or volunteers experience during a program • To capture the synergy of ‘group talk’ • To collect more in-depth information and understanding More

  6. To collect better information from young children or when a written survey is not appropriate • Example: As part of an after-school program evaluation, we conducted focus groups with children in grades 2 and 3. They are not shy at this age and with a friendly opener (like sharing popcorn or a snack), they were very conversant and open. • To obtain information or gain understanding in order to write better questions for standardized data collection

  7. When not to use focus groups • When you want to generalize to a larger group or population • When statistical answers are needed • When the topic is so controversial that people don’t listen to each other • When the topic is sensitive and more appropriate for an individual interview • When you cannot control who participates

  8. Cautions and limitations • They look easy to do but they require skill to be successful • Some topics aren’t appropriate for group discussion • Confidentiality can be a concern • Group dynamics and group pressure can interfere • People may say what they think is socially or politically right ; particularly with youth who may be accustomed to giving adults the “right” answers • Data cannot/should not be generalized

  9. 3. Who participates in a focus group? • 5-8 people per group • Individuals with common characteristics that relate to the topic being discussed

  10. Selecting Participants • Be thoughtful and deliberate about who you invite • Use a recruiting strategy: take nominations, use a list (membership, affiliation, participation list); piggyback onto another event • As appropriate, develop a pool of eligible participants and then randomly select from that pool • Personalize the invitation • Consider incentives

  11. Incentives for participants • Food • Positive, personal invitation that communicates the importance of the focus group and their participation “Your ideas will help…” “We want to hear from you.” • Convenient location • Money • Gifts; gift certificates • Provide child care • Think about the cultural appropriateness of incentives.

  12. 4. How is a focus group conducted? Steps in a successful focus group • Planning the study • Selecting participants carefully • Moderating the group skillfully • Capturing the data • Asking quality questions • Using appropriate analysis - Richard A. Krueger, March 2009 workshop

  13. Planning the focus group study • Be clear about your purpose • Identify “information rich” participants • Plan enough focus groups • Identify convenient locations and times • Seek insight from others about improving the plan • Think about how you will create a non-threatening environment - Richard A. Krueger, March 2009 workshop

  14. Moderating the Focus Group: Moderator skills • Be mentally prepared • Establish rapport – welcome people • Maintain an open and non-threatening environment • Use the standard introduction • Facilitate the group – ensure all participate without domination by some • Use pauses and probes to obtain information • Hold opinions; avoids answering questions • Control any type of reactions to participants or what is being said • Stay on time and on topic

  15. An assistant moderator can help • Takes responsibility for equipment, refreshments, room arrangement • Welcomes participants • Takes notes and operates equipment • Does not participate in the discussion • May ask for clarification of discussion • May present a summary of key points at the end for group feedback • Debriefs with moderator • Assists with analysis

  16. Beginning the Focus Group • The first few moments are critical • Create a thoughtful, permissive atmosphere • Build rapport • Set the tone • Standard introduction: • Welcome • Overview and purpose • Procedures • Ground rules For script of an introduction, see other materials on the web site.

  17. Asking good questions • Carefully develop and test the questions in advance • Use open-ended questions • Limited the number of questions (10 or less) • Avoid asking ‘why’ questions • Use probes and dig deeper • Use “think back” questions • Have concluding questions

  18. Concluding questions • Summary question "Is this an adequate summary?" • All things considered question Ask participants to reflect on the entire discussion and then offer their positions or opinions • Final question "Have we missed anything?”

  19. Capturing the data Recommendation: use more than one of the following. An assistant moderator can help. • Take notes during the conversation • Use a tape recorder or a video recorder • Use a flip chart to capture notes • Record discussion on a laptop computer • Use your memory • Immediately, at the end of the focus group meeting, write down key notes and observations • Debrief with assistant moderator

  20. 5. How many groups are needed for a study? • More than one • Repeated groups (multiple sessions) The number “depends”… Recommendation: Include groups until no new insights and information are revealed. Actuality: Time and resources often determine how many focus group sessions you will hold. Consider 2-3 at a minimum.

  21. 6. What do you do with all the information that you get? • Have a plan for what you will do with the data before you start the focus groups • Be systematic • Apply appropriate qualitative data analysis procedures (see: Qualitative data analysis • Identify recurring themes and patterns • Highlight commonalities and differences • Summarize and report across all the sessions

  22. Summary • A focus group is a special type of group discussion • It requires skill to conduct them well • Careful planning will yield better results. Give special attention to: • Participant selection; recruiting the participants • Developing meaningful questions

  23. Re-check your focus group IQ! What did you learn or have reinforced? • What makes a focus group a focus group? • Why would I want to use a focus group? • How is a focus group conducted? • Who participates in a focus group? • How many groups are needed? • What do you do with all the information that you get?

  24. May we suggest you read a Journal of Extension article to see how a group at Oregon Extension used focus groups to evaluate their youth development program Link on the 4-H evaluation web page or go to

  25. A Focus Group web module with additional resources will be available in late 2009 at