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
The Total Quality Framework (TQF) offers researchers a way to think about basic research principles at each stage of the qualitative research process – data collection, analysis, reporting – with the goal of doing something of value with the outcomes (i.e., the usefulness of the research). The first of the four components of the TQF is Credibility which pertains to the data collection phase of a qualitative study. A detailed discussion of Credibility can be found in this 2017 Research Design Review article.
This article – and in similar fashion to the companion articles associated with the other three components of the TQF – explains the chief elements that define Credibility, stating that “credible qualitative research is the result of effectively managing data collection, paying particular attention to the two specific areas of Scope and Data Gathering.” Although a great deal of the discussions thus far have been centered on traditional qualitative methods, the increasingly important role of technological solutions in qualitative research makes it imperative that the discussion of Credibility (and the other TQF components) expand to the digital world.
The online asynchronous focus group (“bulletin board”) method has been around for a long time. It is clearly an approach that offers qualitative researchers many advantages over the face-to-face mode while also presenting challenges to the integrity of research design. The following presents a snapshot of the online bulletin board focus group method through the lens of the two main ingredients of the TQF Credibility component – Scope and Data Gathering. This snapshot is not an attempt to name all the strengths and limitations associated with the Credibility of the online asynchronous focus group method but rather highlight a few key considerations.