Target groups’ interests, qualitative enquiry, discussion, expression of opinion
A Focus Group is a small group of six to twelve people led through an open discussion by a skilled moderator. They are normally one-off sessions although several may be run simultaneously in different locations.
The moderator or facilitator leading the discussion gauges the participant’s views and attitudes on the subject. The discussions are normally recorded and a report is produced of the process and results which is then distributed to the participants. Clients or other interested parties may observe the discussions.
Focus Groups provide useful information on how people respond to particular questions or issues, but the short amount of time limits the depth of discussion that can be had.
Focus Groups were developed in the private sector and are now widely used in the private, public and social research sectors.
The activity of conducting a Focus Group can be divided into ‘3 main phases’:
1. Phase – Before the Focus Group:
Define the purpose, i.e. objectives of the focus group.
Establish a timeline.
Identify the participants
Focus groups should consist of six to twelve participants. Fewer than six participants tends to limit the conversation, because there is not enough diversity to spark energy and creativity. A group larger than twelve gets to be unwieldy, and voices get lost. However, you should invite more, allowing for no-shows.
Generate the questions
Because a focus group will last for little more than one or two hours, you will only have time for four to seven questions. You may to include one or two introductory or warm-up questions and then get to the more serious questions that get at the heart of the purpose.
To be effective, focus group questions should be open-ended and move from the general to the specific. E.g., after asking the question, “What do you like about the user interface?” you might ask, “If you could build a new user interface from scratch, what would you put in to make a better one?” or “What would make the user interface more appealing to your peers?” or even more specific, “Do you have any suggestions about what the personae (faces)—what they should look like or what they should do?”
Develop a script
Generating questions is a prelude to developing a more detailed script for your focus group.
Plan on a one - to two -hour time frame. A minimum of one hour is recommended because the process requires some time for opening and closing remarks as well as at least one or two questions. Be cautious not to exceed two hours.
There are three parts to a focus group script:
Select a facilitator
A focus group facilitator should be able to deal tactfully with outspoken group members, keep the discussion on track, and make sure every participant is heard.
The facilitator should be knowledgeable about the project. He or she can be a staff member, volunteer, or member of a committee or task force.
Be wary of anything about the facilitator (or facilitators) that might make participants uncomfortable. For example, you may not want the organization's executive director to facilitate a staff focus group about a new performance appraisal system.
Choose the location
You Need a setting which can accommodate the participants and where they would feel comfortable expressing their opinions.
2. Phase – Conduct The Focus Group:
The materials you might need for the session are listed below (9. Materials required):
Attention to the following items will help ensure success:
3. Phase – After the Focus Group:
Make any notes on your written notes, e.g., to clarify any scratching, ensure pages are numbered, fill out any notes that don't make senses, etc.
Interpret and Report the Results:
There are three steps to creating a report on your focus group:
The ideal amount of time to set aside for a focus group is anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. Beyond that most groups are not productive and it becomes an imposition on participant time.
It is important not to overlook the time required to plan the event, recruit the participants and write up and respond to the results.
If the topic for discussion is complex or largely unknown to the participants you may need to provide reading in advance.
A well-skilled moderator and a good recording of the guided discussion.
The materials the organizer might need for the session are:
Given the small number of participants, the results from a focus group are not representative.
California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) (2008): Caltrans Statewide Transportation Plan, And Federal Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan - Public Participation Plan Focus Groups Summary.