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Focus Group Workshop. Steven M. Culver, Ph.D. Associate Director Office of Academic Assessment Virginia Tech Fall 2009. A focus group is . . . . Controlled, carefully planned discussion Gathers information about a particular topic

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focus group workshop

Focus Group Workshop

Steven M. Culver, Ph.D.

Associate Director

Office of Academic Assessment

Virginia Tech

Fall 2009

a focus group is
A focus group is . . .
  • Controlled, carefully planned discussion
  • Gathers information about a particular topic
  • Conducted in a non-threatening environment
  • Conducted by a moderator/facilitator
  • Group members influence each other by responding to ideas, comments of others
  • 7-10 participants
why a focus group
Why a focus group
  • To collect qualitative data
  • To gather feelings and perceptions regarding services, programs, products
  • To promote self-disclosure among participants (note: familiarity inhibits disclosure), though not appropriate for emotionally charged environments
  • To stimulate interaction among

participants to gather more information

uses of focus groups
Uses of Focus Groups
  • Improve planning & design of new programs
  • Improve existing programs
  • Recruit new participants
  • Understand decision making processes
  • Generate information for larger studies
advantages of a focus group
Advantages of a focus group
  • Socially oriented research procedure – more interesting to participants than individual interviews
  • Format allows moderator to probe
  • High face validity – easily understood
  • More accurate than information from just one person
  • Low cost
  • Speedy results
disadvantages of a focus group
Disadvantages of a focus group
  • Researcher has less control
  • Data more difficult to analyze
  • Need carefully trained interviewer
    • Can introduce biases
    • May fail to follow up on crucial information
  • Groups can vary considerably
  • Groups may be difficult to assemble
produces qualitative information
Produces qualitative information
  • Can precede quantitative approach
  • Can be used same time as quantitative approach
  • Can follow quantitative approach
  • Can be used alone
preparing for the session
Preparing for the session
  • Identify major objective(s) of the meeting
  • Develop 5 or 6 questions
  • Plan session – think of maximum time for session as 1 ½ to 2 hours
  • Invite participants
    • Be careful of mixing levels of education, authority, etc.
    • Incentives
moderator traits
Moderator traits
  • Informed about the topic to be discussed
  • Able to encourage all members to participate
  • Exhibit empathy, but maintain control
  • Able to encourage group members to discuss in greater detail
  • Able to allow the session to flow smoothly – be adaptable.
beginning the focus group
Beginning the Focus Group
  • Welcome
  • Overview and topic
  • Ground Rules
  • First question
the welcome
The Welcome
  • You are the host. Make participants feel welcome and comfortable.
  • Much of the success of the group interview is attributable to the development of an open environment.
  • First few moments of a focus group are critical.
overview and topic
Overview and Topic
  • Provide your name and who you represent
  • Explain the purpose of the group and how the data will be collected and used
  • Note that there are no right/wrong answers, but rather differing opinions, so please share your point of view even if different from what others have said
  • Amount of time / breaks
ground rules
Ground Rules
  • Please speak up – one person at a time
  • We will be on a first-name basis for the discussion.
  • Talk about note-takers and tape recording if applicable.
  • Confidentiality – assured from your perspective and ask participants to respect confidentiality of others when outside the group
the questions
The Questions
  • Get participants involved as soon as possible
  • Use open-ended questions: What did you think of the program? Be careful of phrases like “how satisfied” or “to what extent”
  • Avoid dichotomous, yes/no questions.
  • Avoid “why?” questions – implies cause/effect that might not exist
  • Use “think back” questions. Take people back to an experience, not forward to

the future

identifying focus questions
Identifying focus questions
  • Opening: get people talking and feeling comfortable
  • Introductory: Introduce topic, get people thinking and connecting with the topic
  • Transition: move conversation into key questions that guide the study
  • Key questions: those that drive the study
  • Ending: Bring to a close. Use “what is the most important thing we talked about,” “have we missed anything,” “summarize; is this an adequate summary?”
types of questions patton
Types of questions (Patton)
  • Behaviors – what person has done or is doing
  • Opinions/values
  • Feelings
  • Knowledge
  • Sensory – what people have seen, touched, heard
  • Background/demographics – age, gender, etc.
keeping it moving
Keeping it moving
  • May be helpful to think in terms of time blocks.
  • Introduction – 10 minutes
  • Purpose – 10 minutes
  • Topics & discussion – 50 minutes
  • Conclusion – 10 minutes
  • Use balancing to help the group round out its discussion rather than just follow the lead of a few
  • “are there other ways of looking at this?”
  • “what do others think?”
  • “So, we’ve heard x and y points of view, is there another?”
  • Encouraging is about creating an opening for people to participate.
  • “Who else has an idea?”
  • “Is there a student’s perspective on this idea?”
  • “A lot of men have been talking; let’s hear from the women.”
  • “Let’s hear from someone who has spoken in a while.”
  • Paraphrasing helps support people to think out loud, helps clarify, provides calming effect.
  • “It sounds like what you’re saying is . . .”
  • “Let me see if I’m understanding you . . .”
tracking reviewing
  • Tracking lets the group see that several elements are being discussed.
  • First, “I hear three conversations going on right now; I want to make sure I’m tracking them.”
  • Second, “It sounds like one conversation is about …”
  • Third, “Am I getting it right?”
considerations for analysis
Considerations for Analysis
  • Be aware of the actual words used by the participants and the meaning of those words
  • Participant responses are triggered by a stimulus—examine the context of that response in that light
  • Look at frequency/extensiveness of comments – some topics may be more important than others
  • Consider intensity of the comments
  • Give more weight to specific comments based on experiences rather than vague, impersonal responses
the analysis process
The Analysis Process
  • Begin while still in the group: listen for inconsistent or cryptic comments & probe further
  • Immediately after: diagram seating arrangement, debrief moderator, note takers, prepare report in question-by-question format
  • Later: compare/contrast results, look for emerging themes, construct typologies, use quotes to illustrate
  • Prepare report: narrative style, use quotes to illustrate, share report with the team for verification
analysis options
Analysis options
  • Transcript-based analysis
  • Tape-based analysis
  • Note-based analysis
  • Memory-based analysis
  • Purpose is to report views of the group, not to generalize to larger groups
  • Statement of problem, key questions used
  • Results/findings
  • Summary of themes
  • Limitations
  • Recommendations
helpful references
Helpful references
  • These slides based on the following sources:
  • Douglah, M. (2002, October 11). Focus

group workshop. Madison, WI: University of


  • Bledsoe, M. Focus group manual. Daytona

Beach, FL: One Voice for Volusia.

other references
Other references
  • Gibbs, A. (1997). Focus groups. Social

research update. University of Surrey.


Krueger, R. A. (1997). Developing questions for

focus groups. London: Sage.

Rubin, H., & Rubin, I. (2004). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data. 2nd ed. Sage.