Focus Groups

The Focus Group Method

In 2018, five articles were published pertaining to the focus group method. Two of these articles discuss the key differentiating attribute of focus groups, i.e., participant interaction and engagement, and the important role this attribute plays in the integrity of the research.

The interactive component of the focus group method also raises questions concerning mode, which is the subject of two other articles in this compilation. Specifically, these articles address the strengths and limitations of the in-person and online asynchronous focus group modes.

The fifth article in this paper discusses the concept of saturation in the context of determining the “right” number of focus groups to conduct for a particular study. Saturation has been discussed before in RDR, with the emphasis being on the idea that saturation alone is an inadequate measure by which to derive the number of events and, in fact, as a sole measure, saturation jeopardizes data quality, see “Designing a Quality In-depth Interview Study: How Many Interviews Are Enough?”

The focus group method has been discussed in RDR over the years, such as this article on mode differences, and this article (actually, slide show) on applying the Total Quality Framework to focus groups, and a discussion on the use of projective techniques, as well as an article on the many considerations in the design and implementation of the focus group method.

Limitations of In-person Focus Group Discussions

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 116-119).

The interactive, dynamic aspect of the focus group discussion method is its greatest potential strength as well as its greatest potential liability. This is especially the case in the face-to-face, in-person limitations of focus groupsmode where the close physical proximity of participants can unleash any number of factors that will threaten data quality if left unchecked.

One of the most important factors is the caliber of the discussion; specifically, the extent to which all participants have a fair chance of voicing their input. This is critical because the success of the group discussion method hinges on generating a true discussion where everyone present participates in a dialogue with the other group members and, to a lesser degree, with the moderator. A true participatory discussion, however, can be easily jeopardized in the social context of the in-person focus group (as well as the online synchronous discussion mode) because one or more participants either talk too much (i.e., dominate the discussion) or talk too little (i.e., are hesitant to express their views). In either case, the quality of the data will be compromised by the failure to capture the viewpoints of all participants, leading to erroneous interpretations of the outcomes.

The potentially negative impact that the face-to-face group interaction can have on data quality is an important consideration in qualitative research design, yet this impact—or, the effect of group interaction on the research—is often overlooked when conducting the analyses and reporting the outcomes. Researchers who have explored the role of interaction in focus group research include Grønkjær et al. (2011) and Moen, Antonov, Nilsson, and Ring (2010). Grønkjær et al. analyzed the “interactional events” in five focus groups they conducted with Danes on Read Full Text

The Social Environment & Focus Group Participants’ Willingness to Engage

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 148-150).

Beyond discussion guide development and the effects of the moderator, there is another critical component that threatens the quality of data gathered in the focus group discussion method: the participants themselves. The social environment of a focus group discussionparticipants in a group discussion face a more daunting social environment than in-depth interviewees, an environment in which participants are typically expected to meet (in-person, on the phone, or online) and engage with a group of strangers. At the minimum, participants in a dyad find themselves among two other individuals they have never met (the moderator and other participant); and, in the opposite extreme, participants in an online asynchronous group may be one of 10 or 12 or more people who have been asked to join the discussion.

As with the in-depth interview (IDI) method, focus group participants in any mode (i.e., in-person, phone, or online) may threaten the integrity and credibility of group discussion data by their unwillingness or reluctance to divulge certain information, leading them to say nothing or to make an inaccurate statement. For instance, in some focus group studies, what people do not know (or have not done) is a central part of what the study is exploring (e.g., recruiting people who have not been involved with a local nonprofit organization to learn about their Read Full Text