Modes

Focus Groups: Moving to the Online Face-to-face Mode

There are many articles in Research Design Review about the focus group method. They range from broad discussions concerning the strengths and limitations of focus group discussions in qualitative research, to determining the number of groups to conduct for a particular study, to considerations Online synschronous focus groupwhen deciding on the heterogeneity or homogeneity of focus group participants, to matters of moderating such as the importance of gaining individual thinking in the group environment.

Most of these articles pertain to the in-person mode, where the moderator meets group participants at a local facility to discuss the research topic for 90 minutes to two hours. Alternatively, there are a variety of online solutions for the focus group method. One of the most popular are online asynchronous discussions (sometimes called “bulletin boards”) that take place over two to three or more days. As discussed in a brief 2018 article, there are a number of strengths and limitations to the online asynchronous mode, including the advantages of flexibility, geographic spread of participants, and potential for multi-media input; as well as limitations such as that having to do with the absence of visual cues, managing participant engagement, and conducting the analysis.

As I write this in mid-March 2020, many researchers are scrambling to find ways to re-design their in-person focus group research during the current coronavirus pandemic crisis. In doing so, these researchers are taking a close look at moving from in-person discussions to an online mode that allows for some semblance of in-person groups by way of face-to-face, real-time interaction, i.e., synchronous video conferencing. For some (if not, most) of these researchers, the online face-to-face mode is a new experience and, as such, researchers are uncertain on how to proceed on two key facets of the research design: 1) the online service or platform they should use and 2) best practices when conducting online synchronous group discussions for research purposes.

With respect to the online service or platform, the researcher needs to weigh the scope of the study (e.g., type of participant) as well as the depth and breadth of the discussion guide. While simple interfaces such as those provided by Zoom, Webex, or GoToMeeting may offer the video interface, the researcher needs to think about what they may or may not be giving up in terms of the quality of the discussion. For instance, dedicated online qualitative research platforms – such as itracks, 20/20 Research, Civicom, Discuss.io, and others – offer features and capabilities designed specifically for the demands of qualitative research. This includes the capacity to go beyond simple video conferencing (e.g., recording, screen sharing, and transcripts) by way of: recruiting participants; providing a community dashboard; aiding in question development; enabling in-discussion participant activity capabilities such as marking up images and creating collages; an observer “back room”; and various analytical functions such as image tagging as well as keyword and sentiment analysis.

In terms of best practices when conducting online synchronous discussions, here are a few resources:

“Considerations for and Lessons Learned from Online, Synchronous Focus Groups” (Forrestal, D’Angelo, and Vogel, 2015)

“Best Practices for Synchronous Online Focus Groups” (Lobe, 2017)

Online Moderator Training with Casey Sweet and Jeff Walkowski

Although there are clearly limitations to the online mode in qualitative research (as mentioned earlier), there are also times and extraordinary situations (such as the current pandemic) when it is the best approach. In these times, it is incumbent on the researcher to think carefully about maintaining the integrity of their research as they move to an online face-to-face mode, to reflect on what was lost and gained in this approach, and to be transparent in the reporting of this research.

Forrestal, S. G., D’Angelo, A. V., & Vogel, L. K. (2015). Considerations for and lessons learned from online, synchronous focus groups. Survey Practice, 8(2), 1-8.

Lobe, B. (2017). Best Practices for Synchronous Online Focus Groups. In A New Era in Focus Group Research (pp. 227-250). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Images captured from: https://pixabay.com/vectors/monitor-screen-computer-electronics-1143202/ and https://www.istockphoto.com/illustrations/cartoon-people?mediatype=illustration&phrase=cartoon%20people&sort=mostpopular

First Consider In-person Focus Group Discussions

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 115).

The online asynchronous mode of focus group discussions has been discussed elsewhere in Research Design Review, Focus group discussionincluding “Credibility & the Online Asynchronous Focus Group Method” and “The Asynchronous Focus Group Method: Participant Participation & Transparency.” Although this approach to focus groups is important, e.g., in gaining cooperation from certain segments of the population and for particular research topics, there are many reasons to first consider in-person focus group discussions.

Group interviewing in the in-person mode has the advantage of being a natural form of communication. Even in the social media, online world we live in today, the scenario of people sitting together and sharing their opinions and experiences is generally considered a socially acceptable form in the everyday lives of humans. And it is this natural way of communicating that ignites the dynamic, interactive environment that is, in many ways, the raison d’être of the focus group method. As the primary strength of the group discussion method, participant interaction is Read Full Text

Mode Differences in Focus Group Discussions

TQF Image

There are four components to the Total Quality Framework in qualitative research design.  The first component, Credibility, has to do with data collection; specifically, the completeness and accuracy of the data collected.  There are two critical facets to Credibility – Scope (coverage and representation) and Data Gathering (bias, nonresponse, and how well [or not] particular constructs are measured).

The second component is Analyzability.  This component is concerned with the completeness and accuracy of the analyses and interpretations.  The Analyzability component is concerned with Processing (e.g., the use of transcriptions, coding) and Verification (e.g., by way of triangulation, deviant cases, and/or a reflexive journal).

By looking at just these two components of the TQF, what judgments can we make as to the strengths and limitations of the various modes Read Full Text