“A Lesson in Guide Development: Part 1” discusses the importance of giving careful attention to the research objectives and related constructs when developing an in-depth interview (IDI) or focus group discussion guide. One of the useful ways to learn about guide development is to study the guides created by others.
In that spirit, “Part 1” provided a basic guide structure that was adapted from a published focus group research study. The reader was asked to think about “how, if at all, you would change the design of the questions and/or the order in which the questions are asked.” You might want to go back and look at the guide structure presented in “Part 1” before looking at the approach discussed below.
A significant concern with the guide outlined in “Part 1” is that it fails to prioritize gaining the necessary context that the moderator needs in order to effectively achieve the research objective — “To identify the barriers to purchasing & consuming fresh fish, and explore options for reducing these barriers.” The discussion begins with “Why do you eat fish?” But that is not what the moderator really wants to learn about at this early point in the discussion. What the moderator needs to learn about at the onset of the discussion is participants’ preferences in food along with their purchase and consumption behavior. It is only within this context that the moderator can fully understand and effectively question group participants pertaining to the research objective concerning fresh fish.
It is the four-stage funnel approach to guide development that enables the moderator to achieve the necessary context, from which the moderator can truly learn about the participants as it relates to the research objective. As a quality approach to guide development, the four-stage funnel design begins broadly and then increasingly narrows the focus of discussion to reach the key objective(s).
As an example, the guide structure presented in “Part 1” has been recreated using the four-stage funnel approach and is outlined below.
An important way to teach and learn best practices in guide development is to examine how other researchers have constructed their guides. Unfortunately, access to others’ IDI or focus group guides is limited due to the fact that many of the qualitative studies published in the literature do not include the guide used in the research.
One exception is a focus group study published a few years ago concerning the dietary behaviors among community residents. The primary questions asked in these discussions are included in the Appendix of the published article. These questions and the order in which they were asked (see below) offer a case for discussing quality guide development. For the sake anonymity, slight modifications have been made to the study details (i.e., “fish” replaces the actual food type under investigation and the segment of community residents who participated is not revealed).
Take a look at this basic guide structure (i.e., the primary questions minus the probing questions) and think about how, if at all, you would change the design of the questions and/or the order in which the questions are asked. As you do so, keep in mind the stated research objective. Part 2 of the discussion here in RDR will propose an alternative solution to this guide.
As discussed elsewhere in this blog, the ability of the moderator to multitask has important implications to the quality of focus group discussion data. For example, to gather quality data, the moderator must maintain concentration on the research objectives while also following up on new and/or contrary ideas as they emerge from discussion participants. The quality of research outcomes also demands that, in a multi-group study, the moderator consistently cover all the key topic areas of the discussion guide across all groups while also contending with the unpredictability of group dynamics as defined by each group of participants.
Group dynamics can lead a discussion in any number of unexpected directions. Here are just a couple:
For whatever reason, participants appear to be in agreement on one or more topics. The moderator can
Look for inconsistencies by assessing whether one or more participants are contradicting earlier comments and, if so, ask about it.
Paraphrase what is being said and ask participants to clarify their basis for agreement.
Play devil’s advocate
“I have heard the opposite from other users of this product. Help me understand how this group thinks differently.”
Stray From the Guide
Participants may bring up topic areas that are relevant but earlier than intended per the discussion guide. The moderator can
Ask participants’ permission to discuss the topic at a later time.
Choose to discuss the topic at that moment in time (if not too disruptive to the flow of discussion).
Participants may bring up topic areas that are not relevant to the research. The moderator might say
“Thank you for bringing this up. This may be something for us to consider for future discussions.”
An important component of these and other forms of group dynamics is participants’ behavior. For instance, one or more participants in a focus group may
Dominate the discussion preventing others from contributing. The moderator can
Make it clear in the introduction that it is important to hear from everyone.
Let the participant speak before interjecting, “Thank you for that comment. Let’s hear from someone else. Sally, what do you think about the current climate crisis?” or “Thank you. Any reactions to David’s comment?”
Be argumentative or hostile, has “an axe to grind.” The moderator can
Be sure participants understand the purpose of the research & how the discussion will be conducted.
Let the participant vent. Listen politely and then, “Susan, I hear you. Thank you for your comments. But we need to move on with today’s discussion. Can you and I talk afterwards about your concerns?”
Take the opportunity to use the participant’s comments to start a new discussion – “Jack, you make a good point…”
Be shy, quiet and doesn’t make eye contact. The moderator can
Make a special effort during introductions to engage the participant via active listening techniques.
“Back off” from the shy participant until sufficient rapport has been established and then attempt to engage the participant – “John, what do you think about the idea of adding solar panels to your home?”
Be considerate and, if the participant does not want to contribute to the discussion, do not risk angering or upsetting the participant.
Enter into side conversations or be distracted. The moderator can
Call for a “time out” whereby the discussion is briefly stopped and the conversation/distraction is resolved.