A focus group can be defined as a group interview- centered on a specific topic and facilitated and co-ordinated by a moderator or facilitator- which seeks to generate primarily qualitative data, by capitalizing on the interaction that occurs within the group setting. The idea behind the focus group method is that group processes can help people to explore and clarify their views in ways that be less easily accessible in a one to one interview. While the focus group opens up exciting analytical possibilities, it also gives rise to a number of potentially problematic issues in this respect. Definitions:
Reliability- The quality of being reliable, dependable or trustworthy. Validity- The state or quality of being valid (having some foundation; based on truth) Replicability- Property of an activity, process, or test result that allows it to be duplicated at another location or time. Generalisability- Generalizability is a process in testing and statistics theory that takes a score from a sample of behaviors and applies them to the entire possible set of observations
The group dynamics which take place in a focus group are central to its success. However, these interpersonal processes may cause problems in the interpretation of focus group data. One problem is that of the ‘censoring’ of dissenting views held by less confident participants within the group.
The emergence of dissonant views and perspectives — what Kitzinger (1994b) calls ‘argumentative interactions’— often contributes importantly to the richness of focus group data, but may be artificially suppressed. Certain members of the group may be more assertive or articulate than others, and their views may come to dominate the proceedings; such individuals have been described as ‘thought leaders’ ( Henderson 1995). This reflects the tendency of those who find themselves in a minority to acquiesce to the majority view ( Asch 1951, Deutsch & Gerard 1955, Carey & Smith 1994).
There is a further problem here. If a viewpoint which is shared by most of the group lies in one direction or other on the attitude continuum it may be exaggerated through what is known as a group polarization effect ( Turner 1991). The prevalent group viewpoint will tend to converge on the end of the continuum in question, but will also tend to be amplified in the process. In comparison, any divergent viewpoints will tend to be suppressed.
Interestingly, when the topic in question is one which elicits an evaluative response from group members, Carey (1995) suggests that this convergence of viewpoint tends to be negative rather than positive.
The more homogeneous the participants (which, as previously noted, is in other respects advantageous), the greater the likelihood of polarization. Another negative aspect is that the focus group output is not projectable. If a great deal of consistency in the results from a series of focus groups have been identified and it is very likely that the results from these sessions probably can represent a larger number of people. We can’t expect focus groups to be projectable in the same way as quantitative study findings can be. My last point about the disadvantages is that focus groups are a very artificial environment which can influence the responses that are generated.
This is frequently the argument that ethnographers will use when recommending their methodology versus focus groups. Because researchers using the ethnographic technique will situate themselves in the real environment, that is unreachable for focus groups. In focus groups people are collected in a meeting room thus they might behave differently from how they behave when they are not watched and it will effect the quality of research results.
But there is also a high number of advantages of focus group research . First of all the authority role of the moderator. The face-to-face involvement of a qualified moderator can ensure that the conversation is always on track, and encourage participants’ engagement without one individual dominating the meeting.
Another point is the dynamic nature of the methodology .Due to the dynamic environment the moderator can modify the topics, which are prepared before the session to make the topic more suitable for the purpose. The Ability to involve the client personnel in the research Process is another important advantage. In traditional focus groups it is possible for the client personnel to watch the whole discussion behind a one-way mirror.
The client personnel can provide their thinking to the moderator, which may help the moderator better handle the direction of discussion, and improve the quality of output. Also the capability to utilize non-verbal behavior as a research input can be useful . The expression, attitude of individual, the intensity of the conversation etc. can be perceived by the researcher, which can modify the moderator’s decision and also can be counted in the research result.
Another positive aspect is the level of participant involvement in the research. Because every participant is under observation by the moderator and everybody know the process has been videotaped, it is easy to make participants fully engage even during non-discussion time. My last point is the greater security associated with focus group research. The possibility to screen each participant, lets the researcher know who have been involved. This ensures that for example your competition is not involved. (PBWorks, 2007, P.1)
Reliability of Focus Groups Reliability is the extent to which a measure (such as a focus group) is accurate and replicable. With focus groups, this could concern whether another focus group, of similar but different people, would give similar answers. Focus groups often have problems with reliability. These can be lessened if the moderator is highly trained and if questions are relatively specific. Validity of Focus Groups
Validity is the extent to which a measure measures what it purports to measure. For focus groups, this could mean whether it is reasonably certain that people are talking about what you think they are talking about. Focus groups tend to be strong on validity.( Peter Flom, [N.D.], P.1) Generalizing from focus groups
There are two perspectives from which the issue of generalizing from focus groups may be problematic.
The first perspective sees the focus group as a sample from a target population — and thus presumably regards generalization as a legitimate goal — but recognizes a number of methodological barriers. Because focus group participants are often gathered together through a process of non-probability sampling, this will not provide the degree of representativeness of a larger population that may be achieved in, for example, some mail surveys.
Furthermore, there is a tendency for the more self-confident and articulate individuals to be more willing to agree to take part in a focus group in the first place, and it may be necessary to provide inducements to encourage less forthcoming participants to come forward. The other perspective on the external validity of focus group data raises epistemological, not methodological, difficulties. This view would stress the fact that focus group data are firmly contextualized within a specific social situation.
They therefore produce ‘situated’ accounts, tied to a particular context of interaction which may not be a particularly natural one for many participants. The conclusion that would seem to emerge on this issue is that generalization from focus group data is not impossible, but is of a very different nature from that displayed by orthodox quantitative approaches to research. CONCLUSION
The focus group has considerable potential as a means of gathering qualitative data. This potential will not, however, be realized unless due attention is paid to the problematic methodological issues to which the focus group gives rise. In this respect, the principal conclusions to arise are the following:
The skills and attributes of the moderator and the manner of data recording will exert a powerful influence on the quality of the data collected in a focus group. Focus groups explore collective, not individual, phenomenology, and attempts to infer the latter from focus group data are likely to be unfounded.
Focus group data may be a poor indicator of attitudinal consensus, though they may reveal a divergence of opinion and the extent to which certain issues recur across groups. Focus groups can reveal the nature and range of participants’ views, but less so their strength. Generalization from focus group data is problematic, but is likely to be more fruitful at the level of theoretical generalization than at that of empirical generalization.
The use of focus groups is increasing at a faster rate than our knowledge about these qualitative research methods. Every indication , however, is that this environment is dynamically changing and will continue to do so over the next 50 years. To keep up with those changes more research on focus group methods is needed. Ultimately the best teacher is experience . Like most other research tools , proficiency comes with practice. This provides an opportunity to see a variety of groups interact and the way the moderator handles specific problems as they arise.
We also have drawn attention to the limitations of focus group interviews as well as to their advantages. The greatest of the limitations associated with focus groups is that each group really represents a single observation. In the case of focus groups , the demand effects are likely to result from the composition of the group , the presence of a particularly dominant member of the group, the actions of the moderator , or some other group related factor.
Thus, focus groups share many of the same limitations as many other research tools, including survey research and experimentation . The source of these limitations and problems may differ somewhat, but the problems are the same. All in all if you do it on the right way with the right tools, focus group research can be very helpful for your business to come up with new ideas and to find out the best way to act with your target groups.
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