What are focus groups?




A focus group is a data collection procedure in the form of a carefully planned group discussion among about ten people plus a moderator and observer, in order to obtain diverse ideas and perceptions on a topic of interest in a relaxed, permissive environment that fosters the expression of different points of view, with no pressure for consensus” (OMNI, 2013)




Interesting facts

·  Originally called “focussed” interviews

· Focus groups emerged in behavioural science research, the  technique became popular after World War II and has been a part of the social scientist's tool kit ever since.

·Marketing studies show that the use of focus groups has increasingly grown since the 1970’s. Today businesses have estimated that focus groups account for at least 80% spent annually on qualitative research.


Why use a focus group?


Why: The main purpose of a focus group is to draw upon respondent’s attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions. The method is particularly suited for obtaining various perspectives about the topic under investigation. It also allows for gaining insights into people’s shared understandings of everyday work life and the ways in which individuals are influenced by others in a group situation. It can also help participants, talk about the good & bad, rights & wrongs, viewpoints on subjects and allows participants to answer issues or bring up problems to resolve in a safe anonymous environment.


When you should use a Focus Group:


·  Explore needs, thoughts and feelings

·  Explore learners body language, verbal and nonverbal communication

·  When you want learners to learn off each other’s examples


Types of Focus Groups


Focus groups may be exploratory or confirmatory or a combination.

Exploratory focus groups:

Explore how a group perceives a problem

Use the power of group thinking to brainstorm potential solutions

Identify areas of further investigation or action

Help design surveys

Help interpret unclear or conflicting survey responses


Confirmatory focus groups:

Assess solutions already enacted

Seek opinions on proposed efforts

Confirm and expand results from a survey or other data collected

Tend to use closed-ended questions to pinpoint responses


Steps in Planning a Focus Group

Trainers should follow these 7 steps to ensure the running and facilitating of focus groups: 


·  Select the team

You will need to put a small team together comprising of;

1.  A  Facilitator- To guide the discussion

2.   Note Taker- Who will make notes and observe during the discussions. (Recordings can also be used however a note taker is advised as a bake up in case equipment fail or participants do not wish to be recorded)



· Select the participants

Focus groups are run for many different reasons and outcomes will vary on participants. This is a critical and one of the most important steps when organising a focus group. When recruiting you must make sure participants fit the criteria established for inclusion in a particular focus groups. For example if you wish to learn about managing in the retail sector, participants should be from that sector or have some industry/academic knowledge on the subject. It is also important to note participants should represent a large diverse range of characteristics such as age, sex, ethnicity ect.  The optimum size should be small groups normally between seven and ten to allow each participant to contribute their view


·  Decide on location and time

Focus groups on average run for about an hour or two (this may be longer in some cases). Plan a time of day that is most convenient for participants to avoid any running off early or distracted by thoughts of being somewhere else. Location should also be convenient and comfortable as well as be quiet and have some degree of privacy. Examples include public areas such as schools, churches and community centres or private at work, or at a private conference room. Once these considerations have been made set a date, reserve a space and arrange for food and drink.


· Invite the participants

Make sure you give participants plenty of time and warning before a session to allow them to be prepared and make arrangements to attend. It is also helpful to give reminder confirmation the day before with time and location to help attendance. 


· Prepare the focus group guide

The guide is an outline, prepared in advance for a specific set of respondents that covers the topics and issues to be explored. It should have overall research questions in mind and is constructed to ensure that topics covered in the group relate to these research objectives.

What to include in the guide:

1.       Consent script and document

2.      Introduction on purpose of focus group

3.     Research objectives

4.    Research Questions

5.     Tips and tricks to facilitating the session

6.      Time line of expected Q&A responses

7.    Conclusion and thank you speech 



·  Analyse the results


This should be done by a third party. Those analysing the findings can do it in two ways. The first is to just summarise what was set or secondly summarise and make recommendations for action. In preparing the findings report, the researcher seeks primarily to identify evidence that repeats or that raises fundamental questions that beg further inquiry. 


·    Capture Lessons Learned and Share Results 


Document what you learned, clearly stating what you learned. Common Questions should include; did the focus group confirm your assumptions? Did it provide you with information about new problems? How are you going to solve this? Is it a big or small issue? 










 For  Trainer:

·     Responses can be clarified and expanded upon with probing follow-up questions from trainers. 


·    Non-verbal responses can be recorded and interpreted. 


·        Group dialogue tends to generate broad and depth information and knowledge as group members can react to and build upon each other’s responses to produce information or ideas that they might not think of on their own. 


·    Focus groups can be a natural forum for new ideas.


· Focus groups can provide information directly from individuals who are most involved in an issue or hold expertise in the subject.


·  They provide a representation of diverse opinions and ideas than individual interviews.


·   They are relatively low cost and efficient way to generate information in a short time frame


For  Trainer:

·      Can become susceptible to facilitator bias, which may result in undermining validity and reliability of findings.


·     Discussions can become “of topic” or dominated by an individual and thus difficult for the trainer to facilitate 


·    Participants may be hesitant to ask questions or speak freely in front of others.  


·    Only take into consideration a few view points and information often has limited generalizability to a whole population or whole department/ organisation.





Other Considerations


Other options can include individual interviews, brainstorming, employee fee back forms such as surveys and questionaries. 


Brainstorming- is a group or individual creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its member(s). This technique is often cheaper and quicker to organise however can lack structure. 


Individual Interviews:  In individual interviews, an interviewer talks with one trainer for 30 minutes to an hour. An individual interview allow you to probe their attitudes, beliefs, desires, and experiences to get a deeper understanding of a topic and allows learners to have one on one time with a trainer to ask any questions or get help on an area they are struggling with.  However this technique can cost more both in time and money than using a focus group. 



·     Establish rapport

Often participants will be shy and quiet at the start as they do not know what the focus group is for. By outlining the purpose and format at the start of the session can set the group at ease and allow participants to ask about any concerns before it starts. 

·      Obtain Verbal consent

Reading the verbal consent script provided in the manual will let participants understand their rights and ensure them that their identities will not be revealed in any publication/report.

·     Follow the focus group guide

sing the guide will help the focus group run smoothly and avoid running of topic. If participants give incomplete or irrelevant answers the facilitator can probe for fuller, clearer responses by using the following U techniques:

Repeat the question- repetition gives more time to think about an answer

Pause for the answer- nodding or a look can single you want more of an answer

Repeat the reply-  repeating what someone just said can  sometimes stimulate further discussion

Questions should be open ended and facilitator can use- when, what where, which and how to push more detailed information

Using neutral comments - such as “Anything else?” “Any further comments?”


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·    Delahaye, B. (2011). Human Resource Development Managing Learning and Knowledge Capital, Third Edition: The University Press.

·  Dillon, G. Barclay., L. (1997). Student Focus Groups as an Assessment Technique. Journal of Accounting Education, 15.


·  Focus groups: A guide to learning the needs of those we serve. (2007), from http://oqi.wisc.edu/resourcelibrary/uploads/resources/Focus_Group_Guide.pdf


·    Meridian Business Resources & Consulting, Inc. (1999). Once more: If the results are not projectable, why do focus groups? Retrieved from http://www.bestprax.com/whydo.htm/.


·      Morgan, David L. (1998). The focus group guidebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.


·    OMNI. (2013). Toolkit for Conducting Focus Groups, Retrieved from http://www.rowan.edu/colleges/chss/facultystaff/focusgrouptoolkit.pdf


·   Rook, D., Shamdasani, P., Stewart, D. (2007). Focus Group History, Theory, and Practice. Focus Groups: SAGE Publications, Ltd. (http://srmo.sagepub.com.ezproxy.ecu.edu.au/view/focus-groups/d3.xml)


· University of Surrey (1997): Focus Groups. http://sru.soc.surrey.ac.uk/SRU19.html


·  Wilkinson, S. (2004). Focus group research. In D. Silverman (ed.), Qualitative research: Theory, method, and practice (pp. 177–199). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage


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