History of Focus Groups According to Edmunds, focus group interviews “... are either guided or unguided discussions addressing a particular topic of interest or relevance to the group and the researcher.”
History of Focus Groups • The use of focus groups existed before World War II.
History of Focus Groups • Sociologist Robert Merton, was introduced to the focus group in the years following World War II. He wrote a book titled, The Focused Interview in 1956. • In the 1950's, focus groups became common-place among marketers. • It was not until the 1980s that focus groups were rediscovered by social scientists. Sociologists called this technique “group interviews,” but were essentially focus groups.
History of Focus Groups • Focus groups became known in popular culture in the 1990s. President Clinton research teams extensively used focus groups. • Characteristics of the first focus groups included: 1) Six to 10 participants. 2) Focused on the effects of film and television programming, advertising and product consumption, and probed public understanding of health issues. 3) Researchers sought to understand the motivation of the participants.
Research and Focus Groups • Focus groups are considered a qualitative method. • Qualitative methodology had been embedded within cultural anthropology and in the early years of sociology. • In sociology, emerged as a powerful critique of quantitative methodology in the 1950s.
Research and Focus Groups • Qualitative research strategies is acknowledged to render insight into how people attribute meaning and interpret their life world. • Basch (1987) claims that focus groups may be defined as “a qualitative approach to learning about population subgroups with respect to conscious, semiconscious, and unconscious psychological and sociocultural characteristics and processes.”
Strengths and Weaknesses of Focus Groups • Focus groups can produce a wider range of information than other research strategies. • Focus groups can generate new ideas or connections from what might be viewed as random comments. • Able to glean how people attribute meaning to the subject matter. • Excellent preliminary tool or as an adjunct to other methods.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Focus Groups • Consistent with other qualitative methods, it is difficult to generalize results to larger populations. • The skill of the facilitator is crucial to the dynamics of the group, and ultimately to the utility of the data. • The use of such data must be clearly understood. The use of the data often out-paces the limits of focus group data.
Types and structure of Focus Groups • In recent times, the use of focus groups has expanded from its original conception. • Most researchers want to “know something” from the participants. These are simply referred to as instrumental focus groups. These groups can probe: • attitudes or opinions • behavioral patterns • cognition or knowledge inquiry.
Types and structure of Focus Groups • Another type of focus group, less common among academicians, is the expressive focus group. People in the “helping professions” often rely on this type of group, in which the primary goal is the welfare of the participant. • Structures vary from very formal (Networks’ focus groups during a campaign season, for example) to informal. These are typically referred to as structured, semi-structured, and unstructured focus groups respectively.
Designing a Focus Group • Clearly define the research problem or topic. In other words, do you want to understand participant behavior, attitudes, or knowledge of a subject. • Is it being used as a stand-alone method, or in conjunction with other research strategies? If it is the former, typically it functions as a pilot project or exploratory research.
Designing a Focus Group • Creating the group can be the most difficult task. We cannot generalize to the target population, but you want the composition to resemble the varying interest in your target population. • Size of group- Researchers disagree on this issue. • Many claim 7 to 9 members • Others suggest 12 to 15 members.
Basic Tips for a Successful Focus Group • It is important for facilitators to nurture an atmosphere which encourages subjects to speak freely. • When conducted correctly, interactions between members stimulate discussion. • Some have called this the “synergistic group effect.” This is a state in which one member draws from another, or a condition in which the collectively performs better than its constituent parts.
Basic Tips for a Successful Focus Group • Introduction and introductory activities- • It is important that facilitators explain the purpose and how a focus group operates. • It is also appropriate to develop an introductory activity such as having the members say something about themselves (e.g., their favorite hobby, occupation, etc.).
Basic Tips for a Successful Focus Group • Statement of the basic rules- you should explain that you expect an open, polite, and orderly environment where everyone in the group is encouraged to participate.
Basic Tips for a Successful Focus Group • Short question-and-answer discussion- you may choose to ask a question with an open forum, or you can ask each member the same question and then allow for group discussion. • Special activities or exercises- while many focus groups restrict their data collection to responses from questions, some (especially those with children) may include role-playing or other innovative types of activities.
Basic Tips for a Successful Focus Group • Dealing with sensitive issues- facilitators should be aware of sensitive issues such as drug use, deviant behaviors, and certain mental health issues. • The rule here is to approach the subject in broad terms to provide opportunity for more specific issues and responses.
Basic Tips for a Successful Focus Group • Documenting the session- there are a number of issues at stake. • First, you may inform the group that the session will be recorded. • The recording device should be operational. • Second, the placement of the recorder is a problem. If it is centrally located we found it very difficult to transcribe the tapes, mainly because the sociology of conversation is ostensibly overlapping.
Facilitator • Kitzinger (1995) suggests that the amount of explanation, listening, and addressing issues is the facilitators utmost concern.
Facilitator • Initially, the facilitator may choose to take a back seat and assume a “structured eavesdropping” posture. • Later, the researcher may take a more interventionist position, encouraging groups to discuss the inconsistencies within the group or within their own thinking. • The facilitator should not shy away from disagreement within the group. • Facilitators can utilize the interaction to explore topics in more detail and draw out the feelings of each participant based on their reactions to what others in the room have said.
Facilitator • A competent facilitator will utilize non-verbal cues, which may be more important than oral cues in determining reactions to different ideas. • Sometimes it is beneficial to present each participant with a brief questionnaire that allows them to respond in private after the group session is completed.
Analyzing the Data • The “thematic” approach is the most widely used. • You sift and sort through the responses for each question and find similarities and cleavages. You are looking for emerging themes or narratives. • Once you have identified the themes, you can quantify and address the question of “how many.” “Who” is advocating what theme. The question of “why”. It may be affective or ideological or practical.
Potential Personality Obstructions • There are many obstacles in the form of personalities or individual dispositions to a successful focus group. These are listed in no particular sequence or manifested frequency
Potential Obstructions • The facili-tator
Potential Obstructions • The dic-tator
Potential Obstructions • The agi-tator
Potential Obstructions • The commen-tator
Potential Obstructions • The spec-tator
Potential Obstructions • The hesi-tator
Potential Obstructions • The imi-tator