focus groups

Using a “Design Display” to Guide Qualitative Research Design

An important lesson in research design is the idea of learning from past research in order to not repeat the “mistakes” from comparabDesign displayle research in a given area. In qualitative research, if recruiting participants via email has reaped mediocre levels of response and cooperation in the past, a different recruiting strategy (e.g., personal letters by way of FedEx followed by phone) would be adopted for future studies with this population segment.   And, if a particular moderating technique has not resulted in a dynamic and open focus group discussion on a certain topic, the researcher will dig deeper next time into the proverbial “toolbox” to find a more effective approach.

To facilitate the design process, while keeping in mind what has “worked” and “not worked” in the past, it is useful to create some type of grid or display of earlier research. This grid might include the researcher’s own work in the particular area of interest as well as that of others’ research published in peer-reviewed journals. For each study cited, the researcher’s display should include information pertaining to effective as well as ineffective elements of data collection. [NOTE: Similar grids could be developed relating to analysis and reporting.] For instance, a display looking at sampling and recruitment for face-to-face focus group research with cancer patients or survivors might look something like the grid shown above. [NOTE: Click on image to enlarge]


By expanding the display and allowing it to guide the design process, the qualitative researcher can efficiently develop qualitative studies that build on past successes and result in useful outcomes.

Brown, R. F., Shuk, E., Leighl, N., Butow, P., Ostroff, J., Edgerson, S., & Tattersall, M. (2011). Enhancing decision making about participation in cancer clinical trials: Development of a question prompt list. Supportive Care in Cancer, 19(8), 1227–1238.

Ferrell, B. R., Grant, M. M., Funk, B., Otis-Green, S., & Garcia, N. (1997). Quality of life in breast cancer survivors as identified by focus groups. Psycho-Oncology, 6(1), 13–23.

Frazier, L. M., Miller, V. A., Horbelt, D. V., Delmore, J. E., Miller, B. E., & Paschal, A. M. (2010). Comparison of focus groups on cancer and employment conducted face to face or by telephone. Qualitative Health Research, 20(5), 617–627.

Interview Guide Development: A 4-Stage “Funnel” Approach

In-depth interviewers and focus group moderators typically work from an outline of relevant topics and questions that guides them through the interview or discussion. The funnel-new-copyright-markguide is intended to be just that, a guide, and not a strict, prescriptive document. With the guide, the ultimate goal is to enable the interviewer or moderator to efficiently incorporate all of the issues that are important to achieving the research objectives. Maintaining clarity throughout the interview or discussion on the related issues is actually a more essential purpose of the guide than the actual questions or follow-up probes it may contain.

The most typical and effective approach in constructing an interview or discussion guide is to begin broadly and progressively narrow the topic area to the subject matter of greatest importance to the research objectives, i.e., a “funnel” approach. The funnel consists Read Full Text

Accounting for Interactions in Focus Group Research

The RDR post on February 20, 2013 talked about focus group research and how it is anything but a “plain vanilla” research method in terms of design considerations.  kaleidoscopeTo illustrate, the post discussed the issue of group composition; specifically, the “homogeneity or heterogeneity the researcher wants represented by the group participants.”  Another important design consideration in face-to-face group discussions centers on the social context and especially the impact that participants’ interactions have on the discussion and, consequently, the research outcomes.  This is a pretty obvious facet of the focus group method yet, surprisingly, it is largely ignored in the analysis and reporting of group research. Researchers and non-researchers alike complain about the disruptive effect of “dominators” (outspoken group participants who assert their opinions without regard to others), the refusal of “passive” participants to speak their minds, and/or participants talking over each other (making it impossible to hear/follow the discussion) but focus group reports typically fail to discuss these interactions and the role they played in the final analysis.

The good news is that some researchers have given extensive thought to the interaction effect in focus group research and have promoted the idea that this effect needs to be a considered element in the study design.  One example is Lehoux, Poland, and Daudelin (2006) who have proposed a “template” by which qualitative researchers can think about, not only how group interaction impacts the group process but also, how participants’ interaction dictates the learning or knowledge the researcher takes away from the discussion.  The Lehoux, et al. template consists of specific questions the researcher should address during the analysis phase.  For instance, group-process questions include “What types of interactions occur among participants?”, “Which participants dominate the discussion?”, and “How does this affect the contribution of other participants?”  The knowledge-content questions ask things like “What do dominant and passive positions reveal about the topic at hand?” and “What types of knowledge claims are endorsed and/or challenged by participants?”

The credibility and ultimate usefulness of our focus group research depends on a thorough and honest appreciation for what goes on in the field.  The analysis and reporting of the “interactional events” that guided the discussions in our group research is the obligation of all researchers.  Otherwise, what really went on in our discussions is some kind of secret we harbor, leaving the users of our research – and the researchers themselves – blinded to the true outcomes.  Like a kaleidoscope, our understanding of what we “see” from our focus group research depends on how we account for the interactions taking place, and how each dominant and passive piece plays a role in creating the final effect.