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 participants 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
Qualitative researchers are routinely faced with the decision of how many in-depth interviews (IDIs) or focus group discussions to conduct. This decision often revolves around time-cost-benefit trade-off considerations fueled by the tension between neither wanting to conduct too many nor too few IDIs or focus groups.
When it comes to the focus group method, the decision of how many group discussions to conduct is based on any number of factors and will vary depending on the situation for each study. However, a few of the critical factors that the prudent researcher will think about when considering the number of discussions at the outset for any focus group study are the:
Geographic range of the target population, e.g., whether the target population for in-person groups is located in one city or spread across the U.S.
Depth of the discussions, i.e., the number of topics/issues and questions expected to be covered to satisfy research objectives. For example, fewer group discussions may be necessary if the primary research objective is to learn mothers’ preferences for shelf-stable baby food, while a greater number of groups may be needed if the objective is to understand mothers’ preferences across all types of baby food and, specifically, to investigate the priority they place on nutritional and organic foods.
Homogeneity or heterogeneity of the group participants. Using the example above, more groups will be required if the mothers of interest range in age from 25-40 years as well as in income level and if there is reason to believe that attitudes and behavior vary across these demographic characteristics.
Variation in results that is expected to occur across the different focus groups that will be conducted. If there is little variation expected from one group to another (e.g., if group participants are highly homogeneous, or the attitudes among participants in New York are not expected to be different than those in Dallas), then only a few focus groups may suffice. If there is a great deal of variation expected, then many focus groups will be required to fully measure the range of experiences, attitudes, and knowledge the participants will have to impart in the discussions.
Project schedule and amount of available time to complete the study.
Research budget that is available to fund the study.
It is this assortment of factors that cause qualitative researchers to generally disagree on the optimal number of Read Full Text