Data collection techniques: Focus group
What is a focus group?
‘A way of collecting qualitative data which involves engaging a small number of people in an informal group discussion (or discussions) ‘focused’ around a particular topic or set of issues. The discussion is usually based on a series of questions (‘the schedule’) which are used to prompt discussion among the group, and the researcher generally acts as a ‘moderator’ for the group: posing the questions, keeping the discussion flowing, and enabling group members to participate fully.’ (Wilkinson, 2004) The moderator facilitates group discussion, and actively encourages group members to interact with each other. Focus groups allow a range of perspectives or understandings of an issue to be elicited.
Social interaction among group members is central to the method, and distinguishes focus groups from methods such as interviews and surveys . Group members can discuss, debate, disagree with each other and challenge each other. There is the possibility of synergism as respondents react to and build upon the responses of other group members.
Typically a focus group lasts for 1.5 hours. As well as discussion, stimulus materials may be introduced to support discussion e.g. objects, advertisements, film clips, and activities may be used (e.g. pen and pencil exercises)
Practice shows an optimum of 6 to 12 participants per focus group. Small groups are easy to manage, but fewer viewpoints will be expressed. Large groups, though capturing a wider range of viewpoints, can be difficult to manage, and there is more chance that some individuals won’t contribute, especially if there are 1 or 2 dominant personalities in the group.
Generally several focus groups are conducted. Group composition may be fairly homogeneous (e.g. young unemployed men; women with professional jobs etc) or may deliberately include a range of divergent ‘types’. The number of focus groups which are held may be determined by when saturation is reached: that is, when extra focus groups no longer generate new perspectives. However, focus groups are fairly resource-intensive as they take a long time to organise and to transcribe the audio recording, so in practice budget constraints may come into play.
Data Typically an audio recording is made and transcribed. May be supported by note-taking, video recording and outputs from pen and paper exercises and the like.
It may be difficult to recruit busy people as there is less flexibility in scheduling a group activity compared to an individual interview. This is especially so if they are geographically dispersed.
This paper is based entirely on the following sources: