Conducting a Focus Group

How Focus Groups Can Help

Focus groups are a form of group interview used to guide, focus and inform planning and implementation of any activity, and to ensure that the activities undertaken respond to the needs of primary stakeholders.

Focus groups are used to gain the views of stakeholders and to learn their perceptions about current or proposed activities.

Focus groups offer four principal advantages over other ways of working.

They have high face validity for everyone involved, the technique looks as though it can measure what it says it will (peoples opinions), its transparent (everyone can see and hear what’s going on), and those using the information can easily understand the results.
Focus groups place participants in a relaxed setting, assisting a higher degree of candour from participants as well as immediate crosschecking of responses from other group members.
Focus groups give their moderators the opportunity to probe and to explore unanticipated issues and diverse experiences.
Focus groups are rapid, low-cost data collection methods, making them especially practical for development planning and evaluation purposes. Focus groups are not without their dangers. As with any group of people, the rules of group dynamics will apply and the views of the most voluble may overshadow those of the less talkative. And focus groups may be self-selecting, with those more confident of membership supplanting others with different but just as valid opinions. Hence the need for the careful selection of a facilitator, and for careful planning well in advance of the activity.
What is required?

Creating a focus group requires:

8-10 open-ended questions (see below), carefully thought through and sequenced.
A group of 8-12 participants of similar background and experience (see below).
A moderator with knowledge of group dynamics and facilitating skills to ask the questions.
Preferably an assistant moderator to take notes.
A comfortable place where everyone can sit facing each other.
An optional inducement (such as a free lunch) to persuade people to attend.

Open-ended Questions

An open-ended question is one that generates a range of responses.

Are you well today? presumes the answer yes or no and is not open-ended. What do you think about the workshop? is open-ended: it invites any one of a number of answers.

Time Needed

The focus group should not take much longer than an hour. Analysis of the discussion and of your notes may take several hours.
Guide to Conducting a Focus Group

Think about the purpose of the focus group and the information you need very carefully. Do you really need the information? How will the information be used? How much is worth knowing?
Develop a basic set of open-ended questions. They should be sequenced so that more mundane and general questions are at the front-end. There should be a logical flow to the questions that is clear to the respondents. Pilot test the questions to make sure they are clear. Memorise the questioning route so that you don’t have to refer to it during your interview. This will keep the discussion flowing more smoothly.
Invite participants to your session well in advance and get firm commitments to attend. Contact people to remind them the day of the event.
Set up your working area and organise either a table or circle of chairs so that people can sit comfortably facing each other. Arrange for coffee, tea or lunch at the beginning of the session.
When people begin to arrive for the event welcome them and make them feel comfortable. When everyone has arrived, sit down and get started.
Open the session with thanks, a description of the purpose of the interview, any assurances about confidentiality, and an overview of the discussion topics.
The moderator should work through his/her questions, seeking a balanced input from all participants. Watching the time and knowing your bottom line questions, will mean that when time runs out, you have your most important information. You may need to probe for more details on important points, Could you tell me more about that? The co-moderator should take notes, highlighting key points, important themes and patterns to the discussion. Don’t try to take detailed notes, this will distract you. When you are through, thank people for their time and contributions.
Analyse your findings

This is the key step and it should take place right after the interview while things are still fresh. Plan to spend at least an hour with the assistant moderator to discuss and analyse your findings. Now is the time to make detailed notes. Use this time as an opportunity to review and critique your questions and moderator skills. Decide if you need to run additional focus groups to round out or deepen your analysis.

Analysing the Data

The focus group will generate a lot of information. Group the key words and phrases into several categories. Each category should have from three to ten key words or phrases. All comments should fit into at least one category.

Some comments may have several key words that fit into different categories. Key words and phrases should be coded for central theme and general sentiment (positive, negative, neutral, suggestion). After the key words and phases have been grouped into categories, the interpretation step begins. Central themes and issues will emerge. The relative weight of each theme should be accurately reported.

Reporting Findings

Comments can be directly quoted, making sure that the speaker is not identified. Comments should accurately reflect the views of the focus group with care taken not to bias the findings with unrelated comments.

Focus Group Information Template

Use the blank boxes below to add group specific issues or make up your own headings as they relate to your issue. In each box record key phrases and words used to express opinions about the issue.

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