Focus groups are one of many methods utilized by researchers to gather qualitative data. This method consists in simultaneously interviewing a group of people, usually 6-8, in the same location with a shared factor (Krueger& Casey, 2000).
They are also a powerful tool to assess services or examine new ideas (Krueger& Casey, 2000; McNamara, n.d.). Focus groups are an ideal data gathering method for researchers because they allow them to learn the social norms of the community or subgroup being connected to the research (Krueger& Casey, 2000; Mack, Woodsong, MacQueen, Guest, & Namey, 2005). Due to the mix of individuals from diverse areas within the community, they also allow researchers to explore the different perspectives present within it (Krueger& Casey, 2000).
This kind of gathering method attempt to promote group opinion and is especially useful for research involving social behavioral assessments that will be utilized for the creation and determination of services targeted to meet the needs of an specific group or population (Krueger& Casey, 2000). The group is lead by a researcher acting like a moderator, which through the use of open ended questions leads the discussion (Mack, Woodsong, MacQueen, Guest, & Namey, 2005). Focus groups allow researchers to obtain valuable feedback or comments regarding the researched topic (Krueger& Casey, 2000).
These groups are utilized by organizations for diverse purposed such as marketing, product or service improvement, evaluation, or for the creation of mission statements or strategic plans (Krueger& Casey, 2000). The use of focus groups as a data gathering method produces a significant amount of information over a short period of time (Mack et al., 2005). However, they are not the most suitable method to gather data regarding highly social and personal topics (Krueger& Casey, 2000; Mack et al., 2005). Compiling Data
Focus groups usually gather data on diverse ways. Most times the facilitator appoints another researcher to take notes and observations during the course of the discussion and debriefing session (Krueger& Casey, 2000; Mack et al., 2005). The observations help the researchers to obtain a clearer view of the normal day by day activities and settings of the participants, and how they manage or cope with them (Stringer, 2007).
The notes taken are then translated into formal reports Focus group discussions are often video recorded or audio taped by the facilitators as mean to reference the discussion and analyze the participants (Krueger& Casey, 2000; Mack et al., 2005).These are then converted into transcripts to be utilized by the researchers (Mack et al., 2005). Other methods of gathering data utilized by focus groups are: surveys, questionnaires, and photographs (Krueger& Casey, 2000; Mack et al., 2005, Stringer; 2007).
Assurance of Confidentiality
Confidentiality is a major factor for any research process. This helps the participants to feel at ease and to speak freely without fears of any kind (Stringer, 2007). Maintaining confidentiality in focus groups settings require special precautions due to the level of exposure associated to the gathering method (Krueger& Casey, 2000; Mack et al., 2005, Stringer; 2007). It is often recommended for focus group settings to maintain the anonymity of the participants through the use of substitute name to avoid the use of their names (Mack et al., 2005).
The facilitators must assure the participants that their contributions, comments, and conversations will be kept confidential by the research staff (Mack et al., 2005). They must also ask all the participants to maintain confidentiality of the nature of the information discussed, as well as respect for privacy and anonymity for its participants (Krueger& Casey, 2000; Mack et al., 2005, Stringer; 2007). This should be emphasized during at the start and end of the session (Mack et al., 2005).
The moderator must emphasize to the participants the need to maintain confidentiality regarding the identities and comments made by other attendees once the session is concluded (Mack et al., 2005). If hesitation is expressed by any participant over the level of privacy of the session, the facilitator must explain the precautions taken to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of the session and its participants (Krueger& Casey, 2000;
Mack et al., 2005). If after this is discussed the participant still feels uncomfortable or hesitant and prefers not to continue with the session, the facilitator must accepts and support the decision, and should finish the interaction by showing their appreciation for the effort and time provided to (Mack et al., 2005).
A consent form must be signed by each participant on whom they agree to freely participate from the group session (Mack et al., 2005). This form must contain contact information regarding the officials conducting the research in case they need to obtain further information (Mack et al., 2005).
References Stringer, E.T. (2007). Action research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Krueger, R.A. & Casey, M.A. (2000) Focus Groups: A practical guide for applied research (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Mack, N., Woodsong, C., MacQueen, K.M., Guest, G. & Namey, E. (2005). Focus Groups. Qualitative research methods: A data collector's field guide, (pp. 51-82). Research Triangle Park, NC: Family Health International. Retrieved October 23, 2010from http://www.fhi.org/NR/rdonlyres/emgox4xpcoyrysqspsgy5ww6mq7v4e44etd6toiejyxalhbmk5sdnef7fqlr
McNamara, C (n.d.) Basics of Conducting Focus Groups. Retrieved October 23, 2010from