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10 Focus Groups: Learning Objectives


... commercials, theatrical trailers and rough cuts for R-rated movies (NYT 000927) ... Orienting oneself to a new field. Advantages of focus groups ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: 10 Focus Groups: Learning Objectives

10 Focus Groups Learning Objectives
  • describe the history and uses of focus groups
  • list the elements of an interview guide for focus
  • summarize the advantages and disadvantages of
    focus group methods in public health
  • list design issues for focus group activities
  • enumerate moderator and observer/note taker
  • participate in or observe a focus group in class

Tony's comments on participant observations
Group Data Collection Methods
Natural Groups
  • Examples
  • people doing laundry by the river
  • mothers club
  • men gathered around tree to play cards
  • teenagers hanging around outside a 7-11
  • people in a laundromat
  • people at a karoke bar
  • patients in a waiting room at a dentist office

Natural Groups
  • usually more heterogeneous than you would like,
    but used a lot because they are there
  • in modern developed countries, there are fewer
    opportunities for natural groups, because of the
    way we have been isolated by technology

How many have been in focus groups, or run them?
  • experiences and insights?

Focus group facilitated group discussion on a
focused topic
  • Huge industry in US
  • Propaganda comprises 1/7th of our economy
  • Hollywood studies test-market violent films using
    focus groups aged 13-16 and even recruit children
    as young as 9 to evaluate story concepts,
    commercials, theatrical trailers and rough cuts
    for R-rated movies (NYT 000927)
  • Term applied to broad array of group exercises
    (buttons pushed watching election debates)

  • first used to evaluate effectiveness of war time
    propaganda over 50 years ago

KEY FEATURE if a focus group is going well,
the participants will interact amongst themselves
  • Group interaction produces data and insights less
    likely without the interaction found in a group
  • Use a moderator and a recorder

When to consider using focus groups?
  • Understanding some issue from specific
    populations perspective
  • Generate hypotheses based on informants insights
  • Survey instrument development

When to consider using focus groups?
  • Formative research needs assessment
  • Educational materials pre-testing
  • Health promotion techniques
  • Evaluating research sites, study populations, or
  • Exploration of interpretation of research results
  • Community participation or mobilization
  • Orienting oneself to a new field

Advantages of focus groups
  • Does not discriminate between literates
  • Can encourage participation from those who are
    reluctant to be interviewed on their own
  • Can encourage contributions from those who feel
    they have nothing to say, or are characterized as

Either self-contained data collection technique,
or part of a larger research program
Choosing between focus group discussions and
alternative data collection strategies?
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When should you consider using another data
collection method? Types of topics
  • Opinions with unknown basis in behavior or
    little/no personal experience
  • Abstract or complex ideas
  • When participants would not actively or easily
    discuss the topic of interest

When should you consider using another data
collection method? Types of respondents
  • Adolescents
  • Elderly
  • Severe mental illness

Ethical issues
  • use of names/identification
  • Who sees data
  • Tape recording data management
  • video taping is much much more intrusive, less
    acceptable so dont do it
  • is much more difficult to analyze, better to have
    printed transcripts
  • Inherent invasion of privacy issues

Conduct enough groups
  • In geographic regions where meaningful difference
    felt to exist
  • climate, weather,
  • local economic conditions,
  • local lifestyle,
  • political leanings,
  • level of literacy
  • Pre-testing where change order of materials

Size of groups 4-12, ideal 6-8
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Smaller groups expect
  • greater depth of response from each participant
  • highly sensitive to dynamics between individuals
  • use a smaller group when
  • topics are complex, or intense (e.g. child abuse
    perpetrators or victims)
  • participants have expertise on the topic, or have
    authority or power, since they may be irritated
    if they do not have enough time to say what they
    feel is important

Larger groups expect
  • respondents may speak longer, with irrelevant
    information, when they finally get an opportunity
    to speak
  • frustration or dissatisfaction among group
    members, because of inability to get a turn to
    speak, with resulting lower quality quantity of

Larger groups expect
  • low-level participation problems, need more
    moderator involvement
  • more tendency for side conversation between
  • dominant/submissive relationships evolve
  • more generation of ideas
  • generally harder to do well

Composition (sampling) of groups
  • Homogeneity to avoid conflict, and refusals to
    share opinions-- How much is necessary?
  • foster discussion so that participants are
    comfortable with each other.
  • avoid experts who can dominate
  • often useful to have a screening questionnaire
    for participants
  • want them to share a common interest in the topic
    feel comfortable together

Factors that can lead toproblematic heterogeneity
  • gender,
  • on some issues, having men and women can be OK,
    unless there is considerable gender based
  • explore with both types of groups
  • life stage, Age, new mothers cf older mothers, or
    mothers with large family
  • lifestyle,

Factors that can lead to problematic heterogeneity
  • user status,
  • users of a product or practitioners, or non-
  • sometimes can get contrasts if include both,
    especially if there is no social stigma
  • level of expertise/experience,
  • those who have used a product, or practiced a
    behavior for a long time may be quite different
    from a novice

Factors that can lead to problematic heterogeneity
  • marital status,
  • use of contraceptives among married and unmarried
  • sub-cultures/ethnicity
  • sometimes some heterogeneity can be useful, e.g.
    young old

can choose respondents who have previously
participated in focus groups
Friends to include or not?
  • literature says people in a focus group should
    not know one another
  • some people may not meet with others they do not
  • in many communities it is impossible to find
    strangers, everyone knows each other, yet focus
    groups can be run successfully there

Setting of the groups
  • privacy
  • acoustics
  • avoid noisy areas so respondents can hear one
    another moderator can hear all respondents, can
    be problem when hold them in situ so have to find
    quietest spot
  • accessible to respondents, culturally conducive
    for the participants
  • if people travel a long way, this could affect
    group results
  • a brothel, a pasture, a farm field

Setting of the groups
  • Any external observers?
  • if so, have two-way mirror, or set up partitions,
    or adjacent rooms with open doorways, make this
    clear to the participants (marketing does this)
  • Neutral sites, but familiar, dont bring them
    into your office
  • schools or government buildings may induce a
    desire to respond correctly
  • natural environments, convenient locations
    conducive to conversations with familiar
    surroundings, may enhance quality of data

Seating Arrangements
  • avoid designating status, e.g. at head of table,
    next to moderator
  • hunkering on the floor may be appropriate in many
  • enable moderator to have good eye contact with
    all respondents, and for each respondent to be in
    sight of all other participants (harder with
    larger groups)
  • visible name tags (first name or pseudonyms) can
    help calling on people by name

Recruiting participants
  • common source of failure, too few people show up,
    1 or 2 or 3, like a response rate in a survey
  • use key community leaders, rather than unknown
    person to approach participants
  • advertising in local radio station, print media,
    generally less successful
  • repeated contacts, a single phone call is not
    sufficient, let them know they will be contacted
    later to remind them at the initial contact
  • mail reminders, make additional phone calls, at
    least the night before

  • paying people
  • usually focus group more important to the
    researcher than to the participant
  • market researchers pay
  • often social researchers dont have the funds
  • other incentives
  • gives participants a voice on issues that affect
    them (psychological) (stakeholders)
  • social or professional interaction among peers
  • food
  • sometimes women may find it necessary to bring a

Over-recruit strategy, especially for
marginalized participants
  • such as prostitutes
  • sometimes women may find it necessary to bring a
  • if you offer monetary incentives you might
    over-recruit, and if get too many people, pay the
    ones who dont participate

Duration of group
  • Attention span, until they get tired
  • Time of day, people tend to be less bright in
    afternoon (when this class is held)
  • Maximum start to finish 2 hrs (consider break)

Focus Group Discussions Field Guide
  • have document like an ethnographic field guide,
    sometimes called a topic guide
  • summary statement of issues objectives to cover
    in a focus group
  • road map and memory aid for moderator
  • often have initial question to which all
    participants asked to respond

Focus Group Discussions Field Guide common
  • mostly questions are of interest to the
    researcher, and not to the participant
  • start with what is of interest to the
    participants, will generate lively discussion
  • then shift to researchers central interests,
    when group members feel comfortable sharing
    comparing their experiences opinions
  • have too many questions so try to push group
    along, rather than explore

Focus Group Discussions Field Guide common
  • best to outline question areas or issues, include
    special probes under each of key issues
  • detail depends on experience of moderator
  • may need different topic guides for focus groups
    on same subject, with different composition of
  • e.g. safer sex behavior among teenagers of
    different sex or sexual identity

Topics to include
  • dont cover too many issues or participants will
    become bored and fatigued, group will jump around
  • if too many issues, suggests preparatory research
    hasnt been sufficiently focused, or need a
    different method at this stage
  • eliminate questions that are nice to know, but
    not relevant to research objectives
  • eliminate questions such as how many or how
    often that could be better addressed in a
    quantitative study

Topics move from general to specific
  • flow of group is more natural
  • analyst has framework for comments made in group
  • key issues can emerge naturally
  • Order topics to avoid putting respondents in
    irreversible situations or verbal dead ends
  • e.g. if talking about legislating gun control in
    Montana, and find out one person is a member of
    the Montana Militia

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Focus Group Operational and Logistic Issues
Introduction, warm-up
  • Thanks for coming, your presence is important
  • Describe what a focus group is
  • Describe role of moderator, recorder

  • state purpose of group, that interest is in idea,
    comments, suggestions
  • no right or wrong answers
  • all comments welcome
  • feel free to disagree with one another, we want
    to have many points of view

  • explain use of audio/video tape, and
  • sometimes having each person speak their name, or
    a pseudonym, record that and play it back can
    break the ice here
  • tell people they can speak without waiting for
    moderator to call on them
  • ask people to speak one at a time
  • tell people they can interrupt the moderator, who
    may want to move the discussion along

Self Introduction
  • ask each participant to introduce self, say a
    little about themselves
  • can use pseudonyms,

Body of discussion
  • beginning
  • moderator could make a statement such as
  • how did your learning you have panic attacks
    change your life?
  • Natural progression across topics
  • what ways have you notice your body changing
    since you began taking Panban?
  • OK to overlap between topics

Body of discussion
  • again avoid why questions
  • Transitions
  • we have been talking about taking drugs for panic
    attacks, Id now like to look at other ways of
    dealing with this problem
  • Using the guide during the FGD -- probing
    relevant deviations

Body of discussion
  • Ranking at the end can sometimes be helpful
  • giving information
  • sometimes moderator has to spend a great deal of
    time giving information, when seen as an expert,
    provider of info, A REASON TO NOT HAVE AN EXPERT
    as moderator

  • before we end, Id like to go around the room
    once more and ask each of you if there is
    anything else you would like to say about the
    idea of labial frenulum stimulation as weve
    described it for a way of coping with panic
  • Questions and answers
  • Don't forget thank you for time and insights

  • generally moderator is not the Achilles Heel of
    FGD, it is selection recruitment
  • facilitator and moderator are different terms for
    same thing
  • note taker could be an alternate moderator, takes
    notes, feeds ideas/perspectives to moderator

Moderator characteristics style
  • KEY can the moderator encourage participants to
    talk about this topic?
  • can sometimes be a professional, often is a
    group facilitator
  • sensitive topics may require a moderator whose
    background can put participants at ease
  • Moderator probing appropriate effective
  • Ability to think through contingencies vs.
    thinking/interpreting literally

Moderator characteristics style
  • KEY can the moderator encourage participants to
    talk about this topic?
  • Ability to put others at ease non-threatening
  • Active listening, not an interviewer
  • Balance between understanding empathy and
    disciplined detachment
  • understand your bias, it may be hard to avoid
    projecting that
  • Enthusiasm, be supportive, and not judgmental

Moderator characteristics style
  • KEY can the moderator encourage participants to
    talk about this topic?
  • well versed on subject matter and on specific
    objectives of research, especially for complex
  • sometimes for highly technical or controversial
    material, use a pair of moderators

Moderator Level of involvement
  • Low is good for exploration
  • Low participation -- exploratory research goals
    good for content analysis
  • High is good for focus
  • High participation -- externally generated agenda
    (e.g. compare results for a new group or with
    narrowly defined research question)

Same or variable moderators for several groups
  • comparability vs. seniority problems

Some techniques for moderators
  • Build personal context
  • Top-of-mind associations
  • Probing obvious terms ("What does 'it's hard to
    do that' mean to you?" "What about it is good?"
    "In what way is it easy to use the pill?" "How
    can you tell that the medication works?")
  • Conceptual mapping (how group terms)
  • "I'm a five-year old" DONT CONVEY IMPRESSION OF

Some techniques for moderators
  • Role playing
  • Highlight contradictions
  • Repeating
  • Mirroring / Rephrase and ask for verification
  • Silence
  • "I'm confused"
  • Third person
  • Using the guide -- Tracking returning to guide
    throughout discussion (useful for transitions)

Cost expensive
  • time intensive, require skilled researchers
  • may be cheaper than a larger number of informant
    interviews to get comparable info, but sometimes
    not so
  • planning, analysis take considerable cost
  • administrators often surprised at price-tag

Focus Group Discussions Reports and Data Analysis
  • team approach to analysis, especially if cultural
    factors are a focus of research
  • Report preparation meeting immediately after FGD
  • Define structure of field report

  • Very practical material
  • On reserve in library

Class Exercise begin by 245,
Focus group exercise with 5-6 participants from
the class
Other students to take notes,
  • note techniques used,
  • evaluate effort

FDG Introduction Thank you for taking the time to
join us today. I'm SB and I've been commissioned
by the Dean's office to see what can be done to
help graduate students cope with stress. ________
is here to help me as a recorder You've been
selected for this effort, I understand because
you are known to have very successful ways of
coping with stress I'm going to ask you to write
your first names on this tent-card so people can
call on each other by name, I hope that is OK
with you We want to understand your experiences
as a graduate student, the stress you perceive,
and ways in which you deal with it. There are no
right or wrong answers to questions asked, we are
interested in your opinions and comments, and I
expect you may have differing points of
view. Don't feel like you have to respond but if
you want to follow up on something someone else
has said, agree or disagree, or give an example,
please feel free to do that. Don't feel you
have to respond to me all the time. I'm here to
ask questions, listen, and make sure everyone has
an opportunity to participate Initial
Question Increasingly studies show that stress
causes health problems and recreation is often an
important way to cope with stress. The School is
interested in student perspectives on recreation
and activities to deal with stress and how it
might facilitate these. Can each of you respond
to how you deal with the stress of being a
graduate student? Can you give me an example of
ways you have used university facilities or
people to help you cope? Probes would you
explain further? can you give me an example of
what you mean? please tell me more say more uh
huh is there anything else? please describe what
you mean I don't understand does anyone else see
it differently has anyone else had a different
experience? are there other points of view? Later
on are there any other ideas or thoughts or
experiences any of you wish to describe? do you
think we have missed anything in the
discussion? Conclusion some of the ideas I have
heard expressed are thank you all for taking
part, it has been very valuable
  • Other group activities
  • Nominal groups
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