“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.
The funnel four-stage approach to in-depth interview (IDI) and focus group guide development is an effective and efficient method for gaining key insights among qualitative research participants within an allotted time frame. A 2015 article in Research Design Review offers a schematic of this approach and outlines the intended purpose associated with each of the four basic stages (see “Interview Guide Development: A 4-Stage ‘Funnel’ Approach”).
But what exactly does “effective and efficient” mean as it relates to guide development, and why should we care? The answers lie in the fact that a thoughtful funnel approach to guide development enables the researcher to derive quality data from their qualitative research while achieving research objectives and maximizing the ultimate usefulness of the outcomes. By having a clear understanding of what it means to develop an interview or discussion guide that is both effective and efficient, the researcher has added greatly to the integrity of the qualitative research data and design.
There are at least six ways that the funnel four-stage approach to guide development is important to the effectiveness and efficiency of IDI and focus group research. The funnel approach:
Mitigates bias. Progressively moving to the primary topic of interest allows the interviewer/moderator to gather an understanding of perceptions and behavior unblemished by the researcher’s own agenda.
Helps identify variations. The general-to-narrow approach inherently provides the researcher with the necessary fundamental information that is needed to compare and contrast earlier comments with participants’ later remarks. In this way, the interviewer/moderator is able to identify variations in what is being said and conduct the necessary follow-up.
Provides context. It is essential that the researcher develop context by first understanding participant’s(s’) attitudes and behavior associated with the broad subject matter prior to focusing on the specific topic of the research. This gives the researcher a contextual framework in which to understand each participant’s attitudes concerning the key research objective, and effectively probe to gain clarification.
Fosters rapport through a friendly flow of conversation. By beginning the interview or discussion with questions that are general in nature, the interviewer/moderator is facilitating the researcher-participant relationship in a conversational and non-threatening way.
Reduces repetition. The flow of conversation that is grounded in a general-to-narrow method logically circumvents the potential problem of inappropriately repeating the same or similar topic areas or asking redundant questions.
Encourages engagement and cooperation. Just as the funnel approach facilitates rapport building through conversation, it also creates an atmosphere in which participants feel emboldened to engage with the researcher and, in focus groups, with the other participants. This heightened level of cooperation fuels otherwise hidden insights which in turn help to mitigate bias and bolster data quality.
Aids in analysis. By mitigating bias, helping to identify variations in the data, fostering rapport, reducing repetition, and encouraging engagement and cooperation, the funnel approach to guide development ultimately advances data analysis. The analyst is able to discern categories and themes, as well as outliers, in the data in a straightforward way based on well-thought-out transitions in the conversations.