Many scholars have defined the meaning of focus group, here we name a few:
- A group of individuals selected and assembled by researchers to discuss and comment on, from personal experience, the topic that is the subject of the research. (Powell et al 1996: 499)
- Organised discussion with a selected group of individuals to gain information about their views and experiences of a topic. (Anita Gibbs)
- A somewhat informal technique that can help you assess user needs and feelings (Jakob Nielsen)
- Centrally concerned with understanding attitudes rather than measuring them…access to private, non-communicable, unconscious feelings and emotions. (Frank Luntz)
For any student research project, to use focus group as a research method, you need six to nine people. The whole process will run 1-2 hour by a moderator. A proper focus group needs: the proper composition, an open environment, a probing moderator, in-depth analysis and focus on specific issue.
When arranging focus group, be reminded that people more relaxed in group of similar people, this is called ‘homogeneity’. A dominant voice can intimidate others and inhibit discussion.
Preliminary stages of a study method in their own right or as a complement to other methods, especially for triangulation and validity checking. You should explore or generate hypotheses and develop questions or concepts for questionnaires and interviews.
Be careful when choosing who is the moderator, the person must have creative mind, intellectual ability, with good analytical and verbal skills. One should also keep an eye for detail and a good listening skills. One should be tolerance for disorder with a capacity for empathy.
The role of moderator includes: 1. providing clear explanations of the purpose, 2. putting people at ease, 3. enabling interaction, 4. encouraging discussion, and finally 5. challenging participants.
Moderators need to probe for details, and move things forward during the discussion. One should also keep session focused and steer the discussion when necessary. However, do not show too much approval and in particular, avoid favouring particular participants or giving personal opinions. Be reminded, the moderator should never influence participants.
The setting of focus group should be at a neutral locations (avoiding negative or positive associations) such as seminar/meeting room which is comfortable, air conditioned, well lit. All participants should be seating in circle so all can see each other. Also remember to put name tags for members, and moderator.
Before you start, identify objectives, develop fix to six questions and plan meeting. Let everyone know what is going to happen.
Facilitating the Session
Step 1 Introductions
Step 2 Explain process, including tape recording
Step 3 Ask each question, allowing each member to record their answers
Step 4 Facilitate discussion around the answers
Step 5 After each question is answered, summarise responses
Step 6 Ensure everyone has a fair chance to participate
Step 7 Closing the session
And don’t forget to:
- Thank the participants
- Remind them you will send them a copy of the report
Session should feel free-flowing and relatively unstructured.
As soon as after the session, you should check recording, make sure everything is properly recorded. Write up notes and short report summing up with more detailed analyses followed by.