First Steps with Focus Group Studies (Focus groups work particularly well…
First Steps with Focus Group Studies
1. Decide whether focus groups are appropriate.
2. Clarify the purpose of the study.
Team members may disagree about the information that the study should produce and what should be done with the results. They should come to agreement on a clear purpose for the study. This will make the entire process simpler
3. Decide what types of people to listen to the (target audience(s))
What types of people have the experiences or characteristics that will allow them to provide input on the study topic? The target audience may not consist of the most highly educated or the most influential people in an area, but its members have direct experi- ence with something about which the task manager wants to learn more.
For example, young people who drop out of school know a great deal about what it would take to keep other young people in school. Teachers, counse- lors, and parents may give the task manager different perspectives on the same issue.
The task manager should consider the usefulness of listening to a wide variety of people. These include elected officials, influen- tial local figures, the people most affected by the change, the people who must buy into the change before it can happen, and employees (both frontline staff and management) of the organizations that will implement programs or services to support the change.
5. Put thoughts in writing
The task manager should develop a plan that includes the study’s purpose, the number of groups, the potential questions, a timeline, and a budget.
This plan will clarify one’s thinking and provide a basis for further discussions. Then this plan should be shared with colleagues and their feedback invited.
4. Get advice from the target audience(s)
The task manager should find a few people similar to those whom he or she wants to invite to the focus groups and tell them about the study.
The task manager can ask for their advice on several issues: Who can ask these kinds of questions, that is, who should moderate the focus groups? Where might the groups be held? What days or times would work well for people? How does one find people with these characteristics? What would it take to get people to come?
Focus groups work particularly well for the following tasks:
Understanding how people see needs and
assets in their lives and communities.
Understanding how people think or feel
about an issue, idea, behavior, product, or service.
Pilot testing ideas, reforms, or projects. Focus groups can be used to get reactions to plans before large amounts of money are spent in implementation.
Evaluating how well programs or projects are working and how they might be im- proved.
Developing other research instruments, such as surveys or case studies.
Focus group interviews are not meant to be used as:
A process for getting people to come to consensus
A way to teach knowledge or skills
A test of knowledge or skills.
If the task manager answers yes to any of the following questions, he or she likely will need to consider other methods to use in conjunction with, or instead of, focus group interviews:
Do you need statistical data? Focus groups cannot provide statistical data to project to a population. The number of people listened to is too small to be statistically representative.
Will harm come to people who share their ideas in a group? Although the task manager can guarantee that he or she will keep information shared in the group confidential, the moderator cannot promise that other participants will do the same. If harm may come to people who openly share in the group, choose another method, such as individual interviews.
Are people polarized by this topic? It is difficult to conduct focus groups if people holding opposing views on controversial issues are in the same group.
Is there a better, more efficient way to get the information?
In developing and planning a focus study group, five key steps should be followed: