focus groups

Using a “Design Display” to Guide Qualitative Research Design

An important lesson in research design is the idea of learning from past research in order to not repeat the “mistakes” from comparabDesign displayle research in a given area. In qualitative research, if recruiting participants via email has reaped mediocre levels of response and cooperation in the past, a different recruiting strategy (e.g., personal letters by way of FedEx followed by phone) would be adopted for future studies with this population segment.   And, if a particular moderating technique has not resulted in a dynamic and open focus group discussion on a certain topic, the researcher will dig deeper next time into the proverbial “toolbox” to find a more effective approach.

To facilitate the design process, while keeping in mind what has “worked” and “not worked” in the past, it is useful to create some type of grid or display of earlier research. This grid might include the researcher’s own work in the particular area of interest as well as that of others’ research published in peer-reviewed journals. For each study cited, the researcher’s display should include information pertaining to effective as well as ineffective elements of data collection. [NOTE: Similar grids could be developed relating to analysis and reporting.] For instance, a display looking at sampling and recruitment for face-to-face focus group research with cancer patients or survivors might look something like the grid shown above. [NOTE: Click on image to enlarge]

By expanding the display and allowing it to guide the design process, the qualitative researcher can efficiently develop qualitative studies that build on past successes and result in useful outcomes.

Brown, R. F., Shuk, E., Leighl, N., Butow, P., Ostroff, J., Edgerson, S., & Tattersall, M. (2011). Enhancing decision making about participation in cancer clinical trials: Development of a question prompt list. Supportive Care in Cancer, 19(8), 1227–1238.

Ferrell, B. R., Grant, M. M., Funk, B., Otis-Green, S., & Garcia, N. (1997). Quality of life in breast cancer survivors as identified by focus groups. Psycho-Oncology, 6(1), 13–23.

Frazier, L. M., Miller, V. A., Horbelt, D. V., Delmore, J. E., Miller, B. E., & Paschal, A. M. (2010). Comparison of focus groups on cancer and employment conducted face to face or by telephone. Qualitative Health Research, 20(5), 617–627.

Interview Guide Development: A 4-Stage Funnel Approach

In-depth interviewers and focus group moderators typically work from an outline of relevant topics and questions that guides them Funnel approach to guide developmentthrough the interview or discussion. The guide is intended to be just that, a guide, and not a strict, prescriptive document. With the guide, the ultimate goal is to enable the interviewer or moderator to efficiently incorporate all of the issues that are important to achieving the research objectives. Maintaining clarity throughout the interview or discussion on the related issues is actually a more essential purpose of the guide than the actual questions or follow-up probes it may contain.

The most typical and effective approach in constructing an interview or discussion guide is to begin broadly and progressively narrow the topic area to the subject matter of greatest importance to the research objectives, i.e., a “funnel” approach. The funnel consists of four basic stages.

Stage 1: Introductions
The interviewer or moderator introduces themself, briefly explains the purpose of the research, the use of audio/video recording, participant’s anonymity, etc., and allows the participant(s) to comment or ask questions.

The participant(s) introduce themselves by way of answering a few simple questions related to the research objective. For example, in a focus group study with new homeowners concerning their recent mortgage process, the researcher might begin by asking participants how they picked the home they did and one or two things they love about living there.

Stage 2: General information related to the topic
This stage provides background and context to the topic broadly defined, giving the researcher a necessary perspective from which to pursue certain questioning as well as conduct an informed analysis at the conclusion of the research. In the study with new homeowners, this stage might include a discussion about their attitudes toward the mortgage loan process.

Stage 3: Awareness, attitudes &/or behavior related to particular issues
At this stage, the interview or discussion begins to home in on the ultimate objective of the research. Now, for instance, the new homeowners might be asked about their recall and attitudes toward the various mortgage documents (the real focus of the study) they reviewed and signed during the mortgage process.

Stage 4: Attitudes specific to the targeted objective & constructive suggestions for improvement
Aided by the relevant background and context provided in stages 1-3, the final stage of the funnel approach is when the researcher dives into the true “meat” of the interview or discussion. Using the study with new homeowners, this stage might ask about participants’ reactions to prototypes of re-formatted mortgage documents, asking them to compare these prototypes with those used in their mortgages, and asking for suggestions on how to improve the prototypes in order to better communicate with new borrowers.

A four-stage funnel approach is useful – efficient and effective – in creating one-on-one or group interview guides that lead researchers on a path toward reaching their objectives.

[NOTE: Instruction on qualitative guide and question development is available. Please contact Margaret Roller.]

Online Group Discussions: Participants’ Security & Identity Questions

Every researcher working with human subjects strives to ensure the highest ethical standards. Regardless of whether the research is quantitative or qualitative in fingerprint-illusions-6nature – or in the field of health, communications, education, psychology, marketing, anthropology, or sociology – researchers care about protecting the confidentiality, anonymity, and basic “rights” (such as privacy and freedom of thought) of the people who agree to be part of their studies. It is with this in mind that, in addition to gaining IRB approval (as required), researchers openly discuss the goals and intended use of their research with participants, as well as asking them to carefully read and agree to the appropriate consent forms. Online group discussions (focus groups) present a particularly delicate matter. Unlike any other overt form of research – unlike an online survey dominated by closed-end questions, or an online in-depth interview with one person at any moment in time – the online group discussion – with its amalgamation of many people (typically, strangers to each other) responding at length to many open-ended questions over the course of multiple (possibly, many) days – potentially raises important security and identity concerns among participants. Even with a signed consent form, online group participants may still have serious doubts about the containment of their input to the discussion and, hence, their willingness to contribute Read Full Text