Focus Groups

September 16, 2019
people sitting around a table for a focus group

Focus groups produce group think… an aggregate view that results when participants in a like-group get together and chat about a topic. The downside of focus groups is that individual voices can sometimes be reduced or limited unless a facilitator knows what they’re doing to encourage everyone to participate. The upside of focus groups, is that the facilitator often doesn’t have to do much because good group chemistry can often keep participants talking for a long time. If you ask the right questions and encourage conversation, focus groups can produce a lot of insights. Learn more about focus groups in this brief overview of Focus Groups at The Qualitative Research Guidelines Project at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Or of course, we could just all watch a fascinating TED-Ed video:

So, what does a focus group look like? Here’s a video that shows both a not-so-good focus group and a good one (however, the audio quality is most definitely sub-par).

Focus groups render a special kind of data and they require a facilitator who knows what they are doing. With practice, you can become a focus group facilitator who can empower groups to share their thoughts openly. Dr. Leslie Curry shares some valuable insights focus groups in the video below: Fundamentals of Qualitative Research Methods: Focus Groups.

Informed Consent

Before participants complete a survey they should know what you will use the data for and how you will plan to safeguard it. This is covered on the Informed Consent page in insideDMOH.

Respect Participants’ Time

Before participants complete your instrument, tell them how long it will take. For instance:

“This focus group will not take longer than one hour.”

…inspires confidence in participants because they know how much time to budget. If you say the focus group will only take one hour… make sure that’s true. No one likes being hoodwinked!

What if One Participant Never Talks?

Mention to them “We haven’t had a chance to hear your thoughts about this, what do you think? We value your insights” with hopes they will feel empowered to share.

What if a Participant Talks Too Much and Dominates the Conversation?

Politely thank them for their comments “thanks for sharing, we really appreciate your comments” but steer the conversation to the rest of the group “we’d also like to hear from some others in the group…”

Focus groups are all about encouraging sharing and balancing personality types. The better you are at facilitating focus groups, the better you’ll be at any conversation!

Follow Through

When you conduct your focus group, start by asking “easy” and basic questions that get everyone talking about basic stuff. This will ease everyone into the conversation. Ask your questions so they are accessible to everyone and encourage sharing.

References

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2008). Qualitative Research Guidelines Project: Interviewing. Retrieved September 27, 2017 from http://www.qualres.org/HomeInte-3595.html

Caution

Personalities can have a profound impact on a group so try to manage people’s feelings and opinions delicately to ensure everyone has a voice in the session.

dennischeatham

Associate Professor

Miami University