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Focus Group Hints
Focus groups are the most common format for qualitative research. These usually consist of groups of eight to ten respondents who are led through a series of questions in a conversational, free-flowing manner by a professional moderator. The group usually starts out discussing a broad topic but ends up focusing on one or two key areas/aspects of that topic that are the key elements of the focus group and the reason it was held in the first place. The value of a focus group is that group members will exchange ideas and build upon these ideas to generate more of the information for which you are searching. But focus groups are not brainstorming sessions; they are held to understand how people feel and think about a program, service or issue that is of importance to you.
If you think you want to hold a focus group, ask yourself the following questions before writing the questions you will ask your participants and to prepare and develop specific objectives:
- What is the specific purpose of the focus group?
- What information am I seeking?
- What is the problem or issue being studied?
- What is the context of the focus group?
- Who wants the information?
- How will the focus group data be used?
- Is the focus group one of several ways data are being gathered or is it the sole source of data collection for this study issue?
- What is the "target audience" for the focus group?
Hints: If you decide to use focus groups:
- use a professional moderator; do not attempt to moderate yourself; look for an objective 3rd party
- make sure the moderator is unflappable and a good facilitator
- prepare a discussion guide using the inverted pyramid approach (broad topic to key elements)
- write the discussion guide to stages: stage one is the introduction, stage two transitions to set the stage for your in-depth discussion, stage three is your in-depth discussion and stage four is closure to verify conclusions drawn and to allow participants to clarify positions they have taken
- ensure there is commonality among members of the focus group; don't mix apples and oranges; avoid the possibility of dominance by any one or two members
- do not use focus groups to obtain statistical projections
- do not use focus groups to resolve an issue that needs another type of organizational intervention (such as teambuilding or conflict resolution)
- do not use focus groups when the confidentiality of information sources cannot be maintained
Sample Focus Group Script offered by Simply Better! Continuous Improvement:
(Note: the main purpose of this focus group was to solicit information about employee involvement. Remember, this is a script outline to serve as a discussion guide for the moderator and is not intended to read like a questionnaire for the focus group participants.)
STAGE 1 INTRODUCTION
Icebreaker: What kind of work do you do for _____.
1. How do you feel about _________ agency?
- What is your opinion about the service it provides? (Quality, staff)
- What do people you talk to say about this agency?
- What do their friends and family think about the agency?
STAGE 2 TRANSITION
2. How do you participate in decisions about work?
- Thinking about giving input to people in _____ through ____, how does that make you feel about this agency?
3. What are your feelings about being involved in decisions about work?
- Employee interest in being involved in range of decisions related to work.
- If interested, why do they think their involvement matters?
- If not interested, why not?
4. What do you think of other employees representing your needs and interests before agency staff?
- Do you think that not everyone needs to participate in decisions?
STAGE 3 IN-DEPTH
5. Thinking about your experience participating in decisions at this agency, do any problems come up when participating in decisions?
- What obstacles do you have to overcome to have your opinion heard? (If none are mentioned, describe some obstacles: lack of time, not enough support for participation, interpersonal issues.)
- Do you face any resistance to participation by anyone? If yes, where does it come from? Why?
- Given the different problems you mentioned, what do you think should be done to improve things? For example, do you need certain skills and ongoing support to participate?
6. When you think about participating in ____, how do you feel about what's going on?
- Employee opinion about form the participation takes. Is it satisfactory or could it be improved?
- What do you think about the way in which your input is sought? Of the manner in which opportunities to participate are publicized? How helpful are the staff in explaining and facilitating participation?
7. When does the agency seek your input?
- Is it more important to give your opinion at certain times (or does it not matter when you participate in decisions)?
8. When you talk with senior staff about work, what are you most interested in telling them?
- Probe for opinions about the quality of the worklife, feelings about how employees are treated.
9. Has your involvement in _____ agency decisions about the _____affected your overall feelings about working here?
- How does involvement affect how you feel about being an employee of this agency?
10. Is there a downside to providing input? Are there times when you don't want to participate in decisions?
- Does it complicate things?
STAGE 4 CONCLUSION
11. You've told me that you give input to X. How do you want them to use it? What do you expect them to do with the input you provide?
- Expectations about the agency's responsibility to adopt input.
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For more information, contact: Karen Wood