Focus Group Data Analysis: Accounting for Participant Interaction

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 153-154).

The complexity of the substantive data resulting from the focus group discussion method is no small matter. For one thing, more and richer data sources typically stem from focus group research compared to the in-depth interview (IDI) method. Video recording, for instance, is more Focus group interaction analysiscommon in the in-person focus group method and requires special attention because it may include important nonverbal information beyond the substance of the words that were spoken. For example, the participants’ facial expressions may provide valuable insights in addition to what is manifest by the spoken words themselves.

A more profound contributor to the complexity of processing group discussion research is not a data source but a component that is the essence of the method: that is, the interactivity of the group participants. It is participant interaction that sets this method apart from the one-on-one IDI approach. From the perspective of the Total Quality Framework, complete and accurate analyses and interpretations of group discussions are achieved by expending the necessary time and effort to consider the group members’ interactions with each other and with the moderator.

Whether it is by way of video or transcriptions of the discussions, the dynamic interaction fostered by the group environment has the potential of offering the analyst views of the research outcomes that go beyond what is learned from the process of developing codes and identifying themes. Grønkjær et al. (2011) talk about analyzing “sequences of interactions” (e.g., “adjacency pairs,” a comment
from one participant followed by a response from another participant), stating that the analysis “revealed a variety of events that impacted on content” (p. 27). Other suggested means of studying group interaction include the template from Lehoux et al. (2006), discussed in “Accounting for Interactions in Focus Group Research”; asking relevant questions during the analysis, such as, “How did the group resolve disagreements?” (Stevens, 1996, p. 172); and, as espoused by Duggleby (2005) and complementing the work of Morrison-Beedy, Côté-Arsenault, and Feinstein (2001), the integration of participants’ interactions into the written transcripts, for example, incorporating both verbal and nonverbal behavior that more fully explains how participants reacted to each other’s and the moderator’s comments.

Whereas online discussions produce their own transcripts (i.e., the text is captured by way of the online platform), the in-person and telephone modes require one or more transcriptionists to commit the discussions to text. Roller and Lavrakas (2015, p. 35) discuss the necessary qualities of transcriptionists and the importance of embracing them as members of the research team. In addition to the six required characteristics outlined by Roller & Lavrakas, the transcriptionist in the group discussion method must be particularly attentive to the dynamics and interactivity of the discussion. To accomplish this complete task, the requirements of the transcriptionist need to go beyond their knowledge of the subject matter and extend to their know-how of the focus group method. Ideally, the person transcribing the discussions will be someone who has at least some experience as a moderator and can readily isolate interaction among participants and communicate, by way of the transcripts, what the interaction is and how it may have shifted the conversation. For example, a qualified transcriptionist would include any audible (or visual, if working from a video recording) cues from the group participants (e.g., sighs of exasperation or expressions of acceptance or agreement) that would provide the researcher with a clearer understanding of the dynamic environment than simply the words that were spoken.

Duggleby, W. (2005). What about focus group interaction data? Qualitative Health Research, 15(6), 832–840.

Grønkjær, M., Curtis, T., de Crespigny, C., & Delmar, C. (2011). Analysing group interaction in focus group research: Impact on content and the role of the moderator. Qualitative Studies, 2(1), 16–30.

Lehoux, P., Poland, B., & Daudelin, G. (2006). Focus group research and “the patient’s view.” Social Science & Medicine, 63(8), 2091–2104.

Morrison-Beedy, D., Côté-Arsenault, D., & Feinstein, N. F. (2001). Maximizing results with focus groups: Moderator and analysis issues. Applied Nursing Research, 14(1), 48–53.

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

Stevens, P. E. (1996). Focus groups: Collecting aggregate-level data to understand community health phenomena. Public Health Nursing, 13(3), 170–176. Retrieved from


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