Focus groups were originally called “focused interviews” or “group depth interviews”. The technique was developed after World War II to evaluate audience response to radio programs (stewart & shamdasani, 1990). Since then social scientists and program evaluators have found focus groups to be useful in understanding how or why people hold certain beliefs about a topic or program of interest.
what focus groups can tell you
- provide detailed insights on how groups of people think or feel about a particular topic
- give greater insight into why certain opinions are held
- help improve the planning and design of new programs
- provide a means of evaluating existing programs
- produce insights for developing strategies for outreach
what focus groups cannot tell you
- valid information about individuals
- valid “before-and-after” information (how things have changed over time)
- information that you can apply generally to other groups of people
Because the idea of focus groups is to take advantage of group interactions, it is important to use the information at the group level, not the individual level. Focus groups are not a valid way to find out how much progress an individual client or participant has made toward his or her own goals. Also, because focus groups are usually made up of a very small number of people who voluntarily participate, one cannot assume that their views and perceptions represent those of other groups that might have slightly different characteristics. They are not “random samples”.
advantages of using focus groups
- takes advantage of the fact that people naturally interact and are influenced by others (high face validity)
- may be one of the few research tools available for obtaining data from children or from individuals who are not particularly literate
- provide data more quickly and at lower cost than if individuals interviewed separately; groups can be assembled on shorter notice than for a more systematic survey
- generally requires less preparation and is comparatively easy to conduct
- researcher can interact directly with respondents (allows clarification, follow-up questions, probing). can gain information from non-verbal responses to supplement (or even contradict) verbal responses
- data uses respondents’ own words; can obtain deeper levels of meaning, make important connections, identify subtle nuances
- very flexible; can be used with wide range of topics, individuals, and settings
- results are easy to understand and more accessible to lay audiences or decision-makers than complex statistical analyses of survey data
disadvantages of using focus groups
- have less control over group; less able to control what information will be produced.
- produces relatively chaotic data making data analysis more difficult.
- small numbers and convenience sampling severely limit ability to generalize to larger populations
- requires carefully trained interviewer who is knowledgeable about group dynamics. moderator may knowingly or unknowingly bias results by providing cues about what types of responses are desirable
- uncertainty about accuracy of what participants say. results may be biased by presence of a very dominant or opinionated member; more reserved members may be hesitant to talk
At global vox populi, all qualitative fieldwork is done by the core team of researchers working on a study. our moderators always have a detailed knowledge of the research objectives enabling them to gain deep insights into why and how people act as they do, and report this back to clients in an interpretive and actionable way.
For some studies it is necessary to speak with participants on more than one occasion and in such cases we use reconvened focus groups.
For projects that are exploratory in nature or focus on sensitive subjects, we prefer in-depth interviews as a more suitable choice than focus groups.
focus group solutions:
- focus group facilities
- focus group moderation
- focus group tele-conference
- focus group video- conference
- focus group web-conference
- low incidence screening
- pre-recruit interviewing
- low incidence research