Data Methods: Focus Group Research

Data Methods:
Focus Group Research

Karl Ho

School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences

University of Texas at Dallas

What is Focus Group? 

A carefully planned series of discussions designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment.

- Krueger & Casey

What is Focus Group? 

- Krueger & Casey

What is Focus Group? 

"...there is no one more powerful than a member of a focus group."

- Tony Blair

quoted in Barbour and Kitzinger 1998

What is Focus Group? 

Barbour, R. and Kitzinger, J. eds., 1998. Developing focus group research: politics, theory and practice. Sage.

What is Focus Group? 

Focus groups are strongly associated with qualitative approaches to social research, the dominant theme of the latter being the provision of a rich understanding of people’s lived experiences and perspectives, situated within the context of their particular circumstances and settings.

- Murphy et al. 1998

Murphy, E., Dingwall, R., Greatbatch, D., Parker, S. and Watson, P., 1998. Qualitative research methods in health technology assessment: a review of the literature.

Why Do Focus Groups Work?

The intent of the focus group is to promote self-disclosure among participants. 

Through small focus group interviews, we collect data of what people really think and feel in a setting that is  natural and comfortable. 

Characteristics of Focus Groups 

These characteristics relate to the ingredients of a focus group:

  1. people who

  2. possess certain characteristics and

  3. provide qualitative data

  4. in a focused discussion

  5. to help understand the topic of interest.

Focus Group set-up 

Focus groups are typically composed of five to ten people, but the size can range from as few as four to as many as twelve. 

The group must be small enough for everyone to have an opportunity to share insights and yet large enough to provide diversity of perceptions. When the group exceeds a dozen participants, there is a tendency for the group to fragment. 

Focus Group Sampling

  • Who should be invited?

  • How do you find them?

  • How do you get them to show up? 

Focus Group Sampling

  • Homogeneity

    • Participants who are similar 

  • Anonymity

    • Participants who do not each other

  • Non-hierarchical structure

    • Participants who are not subordinate to others in the group

Focus Group Sampling

  • Networks

    • Lists or directories through cooperating organizations or individuals

    • On location at an event or activity.

  • Use a systematic recruitment strategy that is repetitive and personalized.

  • Use a combination of incentives 

Typical Focus Group example 

Each group is conducted with six to eight people by a skilled interviewer. The discussions are relaxed, and often participants enjoy sharing their ideas and perceptions. Group members influence each other by responding to ideas and comments of others.

FGR Data Collection

  • Qualitative Data

  • Small Data Approach

  • Researcher is data collector

  • Pre-planned Instrument

  • Coding

  • Sampling

    • Homogeneous

    • Snowball sampling

    • IRB (sample)

  • Data type:

    • Connected

FGR Interviews

  1. Participants

  2. Environment

  3. Moderator

  4. Data and Report

FGR Interviews

  1. Participants

    • Recruitment (sampling)

    • 5 to 10 people per group, 6-8 preferred

    • Homogeneity

    • Repeated groups

FGR Interviews

2. Environment

  • Comfortable                                       

  • Circle seating

  • Recording

FGR Interviews

3. Moderator

  • Skillful in group discussions

  • Uses pre-determined questions

  • Establishes permissive environment

FGR Interviews

4. Data and Reporting

  • Identify Big idea                                 

  • Systematic analysis

  • Verifiable procedures

  • Next step of data

  • Appropriate reporting

FGR Interview Process

  1. Introductory

  2. Transition

  3. Key

  4. Ending questions. 

FGR Data Discussions

  • Preparing data for analysis and replication

  • Moderator bias

  • Interaction data

  • Data Connectedness 

  • Disciplines:

    • Medical: practitioners such as doctors, nurses, therapists and researchers
    • Social work and Counseling
    • Anthropology 

FGR Data Discussions

  • Issues                                     

    • Inference
      • Theoretical Generalization vs. Empirical Generalization (Sim 1998)
    • Presence vs. absence of explanatory factors
    • Factor structure 

FGR Summary

  1. Focus groups involve homogeneous people in a social interaction.

  2. The purpose of focus groups is to collect qualitative data from a focused discussion.

  3. Focus group interviewing is a qualitative approach to gathering information that is both inductive and naturalistic.

Reference (for further reading)

Freeman, T., 2006. ‘Best practice’ in focus group research: making sense of different views. Journal of advanced nursing, 56(5), pp.491-497.

Sim, J., 1998. Collecting and analysing qualitative data: issues raised by the focus group. Journal of advanced nursing, 28(2), pp.345-352.

Saldaña, J., 2015. The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Sage.



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