A focus group consists of a small number (8-12) of relatively similar individuals who provide information during a directed and moderated interactive group discussion (Popham, 1993). Focus group participants are typically chosen based on their ability to provide specialized knowledge or insight into the issue under study. Focus groups are particularly well suited for gaining insight into what issues are most relevant to target population, understanding how this population is being affected by a change in practice, or assisting in the development of surveys by identifying issues most relevant to the population.
Suggested uses of focus groups:
- Encouraging expression of views that might normally be suppressed
- Gaining in-depth information about attitudes, perceptions, behaviors, and motivations
- Identifying needs, expectations, and potential reactions before launching an experiment or intervention.
- Refining an intervention by understanding needs and problems.
- Evaluating a completed intervention or innovation.
- Providing insight to inform a subsequent survey or interview protocol
- Following up results from a survey to better understand interesting or unexpected findings
Limitations of focus groups:
- Training investigators, recruiting participants, conducting focus groups, and transcribing are time-consuming and can be expensive.
- Data analysis is often complex and time-consuming.
- Results may not generalize to others outside the group.
- Cannot determine causal effects.
- Not appropriate for researcher to facilitate a focus group with their students or subordinates.
Conducting a focus group requires a high level of resources. You must know facilitation techniques, how to write appropriate questions, and how to analyze qualitative data. In addition, you may need to hire and train staff, purchase recording equipment and analysis software, solicit participants, arrange venues, and transcribe the recording. [more]
Plan your focus group
STEP 1. Identify the educational research problem or topic
Identify a research problem or topic from everyday life experiences, practical issues, past research, or theory. Pay attention to the feasibility of your research problem or topic and whether it can be researched systematically. Determine the resources needed to conduct the study, your interest level, its size and complexity, as well as the value of your results or solution for both theory and practice.
To thoroughly describe the research problem or topic, create a statement that includes the educational topic or specific problem and the justification for research.
STEP 2. Review prior research
The literature review will help you gain an understanding of the current state of knowledge pertaining to your research idea. It will inform you of what data collection methods have been used for similar research and to help make sense of the findings from these methods once data analysis is complete. Try to specifically explore previous research that has used focus groups for research problems or topics similar to your own.
To review prior research, the most effective and efficient way is to search educational journals through electronic computer databases such as ERIC, PsychINFO, or Google Scholar. Searching other library databases is also recommended.
STEP 3. Determine the purpose, research question(s) or hypothesis(es)
For focus groups, the purpose of your study will generally be more explorative or descriptive in nature. However, focus groups can also be used to explain (and triangulate) findings obtained from other methods. For example, if we determine from an experiment that A is better than B, a focus group can be used to help us further explore why A is better than B.
Once you have created your research question(s) or hypothesis(es), specify or match which question(s) focus groups will help to answer, or which hypothesis(es) focus groups will help to triangulate.
STEP 4. Consider the research implications of focus group findings
Implications are the practical ways your research will assist the field of education. These are the underlying goals, the rationales for, or the importance of your study. Implications are linked to your research problem or topic, research purpose, and research question(s) or hypothesis(es) of your study. Therefore, once you have matched the research question(s) or hypothesis(es) that focus group findings will try to answer, determine the implications of these results and how it will aid the field of education. This will help you keep focused and maintain a clear vision when writing focus group questions, conducting focus groups, and interpreting results.
STEP 5. Write questions and organize the focus group
Writing good questions is crucial, so revise them until they are clear and succinct. [more]
American Statistical Association (1997). What are Focus Groups? Retrieved on January 14, 2005 from Survey Research Methods Section Web site: http://www.amstat.org/sections/srns.brochures/focusgroups.pdf.
Berkowitz, S. (1997). Analyzing Qualitative Data. In J. Frechtling, L. Sharp, and Westat (Eds.), User-Friendly Handbook for Mixed Method Evaluations (Chapter 4). Retrieved June 21, 2006 from National Science Foundation, Directorate of Education and Human Resources Web site: http://www.ehr.nsf.gov/EHR/REC/pubs/NSF97-153/CHAP_4.HTM
Fern, E. F. (2001). Advanced focus group research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Goldenkoff, R. (2004). Using focus groups. In J.S. Wholey, H. P. Hatry, & K. E. Newcomer (Eds.), Handbook of practical program evaluation (2nd ed.) (pp. 340-362). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Krueger, R. A. (1988). Focus groups: a practical guide for applied research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Kvale, S. (1996). Inter Views: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Popham, W. J. (1993). Educational evaluation. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Silverman, G. (n.d.) How to get beneath the surface in focus groups. Retrieved June 21, 2006 from Market Navigation, Inc. Web site: http://www.mnav.com/bensurf.htm.