focus group discussions

Building Rapport & Engagement in the Focus Group Method

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 150-152).

The ability to quickly build rapport with focus group participants and then maintain it throughout the discussion session is a necessary skill of all Rapport building in focus groupsmoderators. Regardless of mode (in-person, telephone, or online), focus group moderators must learn how to effectively engage participants to generate accurate and complete information. Rapport building for the moderator begins even before the start of a group discussion, when he/she welcomes the participants as they arrive at the facility (for an in-person discussion), on the teleconference line (for a telephone focus group), or in the virtual focus group room (for an online discussion), and it continues beyond the introductory remarks during which the moderator acknowledges aspects of the discussion environment that may not be readily apparent (e.g., the presence of observers, the microphone or other device being used to audio record the discussion), states a few ground rules for the session, and allows participants to ask any questions or make comments before the start of the discussion. In the in-person mode, the moderator’s rapport building goes beyond what he/she says to participants to make them feel at ease to also include the physical environment. For example, business executives might feel comfortable and willing to talk sitting around a standard conference table; however, in order to build rapport and stimulate engagement among a group of teenagers, the moderator needs to select a site where teens will feel that they can relax and freely discuss the issues. This might be a standard focus group facility with a living or recreation room setup (i.e., a room with couches, bean bags, and rugs on the floor for sitting) or an unconventional location such as someone’s home or the city park.

Another aspect of the physical environment in in-person discussions that impacts rapport and consequently the quality of the data gathered is the seating arrangement. For instance, Krueger and Casey (2009) recommend that the moderator position a shy participant Read Full Text

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

The Asynchronous Focus Group Method: Participant Participation & Transparency

There is a great deal that is written about transparency in research. It is generally acknowledged that researchers owe it to their research sponsors as well as to the broader research community to divulge the details of their designs and the implementation of their studies. Articles pertaining to transparency Participant participation in asynchronous focus group discussionshave been posted throughout Research Design Review.

The need for transparency in qualitative research is as relevant for designs utilizing off-line modes, such as in-person interviews and focus group discussions, as it is for online research, such as asynchronous focus groups. A transparency detail that is critical for the users of online asynchronous – not-in-real-time – focus group discussions research is the level of participant participation. This may, in fact, be the most important information concerning an asynchronous study that a researcher can provide.

Participation level in asynchronous discussions is particularly important because participation in the online asynchronous mode can be erratic and weak. Nicholas et al. (2010) found that “online focus group participants offered substantially less information than did those in the [in-person] groups” (p. 114) and others have underscored a serious limitation of this mode; that is, “it is very difficult to get subjects with little interest in [the topic] to participate and the moderator has more limited options for energising and motivating the participants” (Murgado-Armenteros et al., 2012, p. 79) and, indeed, researchers have found that “participation in the online focus group dropped steadily” during the discussion period (Deggs et al., 2010, p. 1032).

The integrity and ultimate usefulness of focus group data hinge solidly on the level of participation and engagement among group participants. This is true regardless of mode but it is a particularly critical consideration when conducting asynchronous discussions. Because of this and because transparency is vital to the health of the qualitative research community, focus group researchers employing the online asynchronous method are encouraged to continually monitor, record, and report on the rate and level of participation, e.g., how many and who (in terms of relevant characteristics) of the recruited sample entered into the discussion, how many and who responded to all questions, how thoughtful and in-depth (or not) were responses, how many and who engaged with the moderator, and how many and who engaged with other participants.

This transparent account of participant participation offers the users of asynchronous focus group research an essential ingredient as they assess the value of the study conducted.

Deggs, D., Grover, K., & Kacirek, K. (2010). Using message boards to conduct online focus groups. Retrieved from

Murgado-Armenteros, E. M., Torres-Ruiz, F. J., & Vega-Zamora, M. (2012). Differences between online and face-to-face focus groups, viewed through two approaches. Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research, 7(2), 73–86.

Nicholas, D. B., Lach, L., King, G., Scott, M., Boydell, K., Sawatzky, B., … Young, N. L. (2010). Contrasting Internet and face-to-face focus groups for children with chronic health conditions : Outcomes and participant experiences. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 9(1), 105–122.

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