Focus Groups Theory And Practice Mr Jitipol

David W. Stewart, Prem N. Shamdasani, Denis W. Rook

1. Introduction: Focus Group History, Theory, and Practice

In examining the historical origins of focus group research in the behavioral sciences, one is stuck by high level of interdisciplinary collaboration and creativity. The now famous studies of WWII training and morale films were led by individuals with backgrounds in social psychology, experimental psychology, and sociology. Similarly, market research uses of focus groups were strongly influenced by the intellectual border crossing of clinical and social psychologists into the marketing field. In looking at focus group practice across various disciplines, one can also observe how group research formats and approaches vary according to the core issues that characterize a particular filed. Finally, it is interesting to consider the degree of which focus groups conform to the historical normative criteria discussed as following

Focus Research – conform to the criteria focus.
Group Interactions – try to understand the group dynamics.
In-Depth Data - go beyond level of surface.
Humanistic interview – empathy, openness, active listening, and various activities.

In some cases, this merely reflects the necessities of adaptive use in a particular field or for a specific research purpose. In the worst case, a drift away form historical focus group theory and research design norms results in focus groups that have little singular focus, elicit superficial consensual data, rarely achieve in-depth understandings, and end up as group surveys rather than qualitative interviews.

2. Group Dynamics and Focus Group Research

The substantial body of literature on group dynamics provides a general foundation on which to build a methodology for the focus group interview. Any particular focus group research project will benefit form prior careful consideration of how individual differences, interpersonal factors, and environmental factors are likely to affect a group’s behavioral dynamics.

Influences of intrapersonal factors and individual differences
Demographic factor - age, sex, income, occupation, education, religion, etc.
Physical factor - size, height, weight, general health, and appearance.
Personality - interpersonal orientation, dependability, and emotional stability

Interpersonal influences
Group cohesiveness - attraction, morale, coordination
Group compatibility - needs, personality, attitudes
Social power - potential to influence
Group participation - participation and nonverbal communication

Environmental influences
Material environment - room size, presence of props
Territoriality - comfortable distance for participants
Spatial arrangement - seating arrangement
Interperson distance - issues of territoriality
Moderated Groupings of Strangers

3. Focus Groups and the Research Toolbox

Advantage of focus groups
1. Quick with less cost
2. Interact directly with respondents
3. Opportunities to gain large and rich data
4. Synergistic effect
5. Very flexible
6. Can obtain data from children of who are not literate
7. Extremely friendly and easy to understand

Limitation of focus groups
1. Small number of respondents
2. May lead to undesirable effects
3. No statistical summary
4. Interpretation is difficult form open-end question
5. Bias results

Focus group research is a useful research tool, but there are many other tools in the toolbox. It is important to recognize the unique strengths and limitations of focus group research. Focus group research produces very specific types of data that are at once very rich, diagnostic, and limited. The use of focus groups can produce powerful insights, but such use is not a substitute for other research techniques.

Step to design focus group

Definition of problem
Identification of sample frame
Identify of moderator
Interview guide
Recruiting sample
Analysis of data
conducting a group
Writing a report
Decision making and action

4. Recruiting Focus Group Participants and Designing the Interviews Guide

The selection and recruitment of participants for a focus group is a critical part of the design process. The fact that focus groups are not designed to produce projectable statistical results does not mean that care should be abandoned when recruiting respondents. As in all research, respondents should be selected form an identified population of relevance to the research question. Likewise, the interview guide should be designed with care and with a clear understanding of the research problems.

The basic questions are as following

1. How many participants? 6-12 peoples. Fewer than 6 participants makes for a rather dull discussion. More than 12 participants are hard to manage.
2. How many questions? Fewer than dozen.
3. How much structure? Less as possible.

Focus groups are not random discussion among group individuals who are brought together haphazardly. Rather, they are group of discussions among carefully selected individuals guided by a skilled moderator who follows a well-constructed but loose and flexible interview guide. Ultimately, the composition of the group, the structure of the interview guide, and the location of the interview must flow form a well-defined research objective. Like all other research, focus group research begins with and should be guided by a well-articulated purpose.

5. The Focus Group Moderator

We have considered the importance of leadership styles, approaches to questioning the respondents, and moderator characteristics and behaviors that may bias the results of the focus group. An important aspect of moderator training and preparation involves learning how to deal with situational variables such as disruptive focus group participants, emerging leaders, different focus group sizes, deadlines, and other resource constraints, personal characteristics, educational background and training, and amount of moderating experiences are important considerations in selecting a moderator.

Personal traits of good qualitative Researcher/Moderators

  • Are genuinely interested in hearing other people’s thoughts and feelings
  • Are expensive of their own feelings
  • Are animated and spontaneous
  • Have a sense of humor
  • Are empathetic
  • Admit their own biases

However, we have suggested than there is no one best style for leading a focus group, nor is there a single best “type” of moderator. Rather, both the moderator and the strategy for conducting the interview must be matched with the purpose of research and the characteristics of the group.

6. Conducting the Focus Group

Conducting a focus group is an art that requires considerable experience and training. The quality of the data obtained form a focus group discussion is the direct result of well the moderator carries out the interview. This begins be establishing a high level of comfort for participants in an atmosphere that is perceived as nonevaluative and nonthreatening. In this setting, the moderator moves the group form topic to topic, probing as needed to extract the respondents’ meaning. At the same time, the moderator must maintain control of the group, ensuring that the group is not dominated by our member and that all members actively contribute to the discussion.

The moderator must establish the ground rules for the discussion at the outset of the meeting. The moderator must also ensure that all members of the group have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion. This may require co-opting some members of the group or using negative sanctions to control the behavior of particularly assertive members of the group.

The moderator must determine the appropriate level of directiveness, structure, intimacy, and use of discussion aids. These levels should be consistent with the purpose of the research. The use of recording equipment, such as tape records and video cameras, must also be explained to participants, as well as the presence of any observers of the group. Finally, the moderator has an obligation to debrief participants about the purpose of the group discussion.

7. Analyzing Focus Group Data

The analysis of focus group data can take a wide variety of forms. There may range form very rapid, highly subjective impressionistic analyses to very sophisticated computer-assisted analyses.

Transcribing the interview, The following draws form discussion in A.E. Goldman and McDonald (1987, pp.164-166)

  • Issue Order
  • Issue Absence or Presence
  • Time Spent on the issue
  • Intensity of expression
  • Reasons v Reactions
  • Doubt and Disbelief
  • Individuals V the Group
  • The scissor-and-sort Technique
  • Content Analysis

There is no best approach. Rather, the approach selected should be consistent with the original purpose of the research and the information needs that gave rise to it. It is unfair to suggest that all focus group research involves highly subjective analysis. This is certainly the case in many applications, but there exist an array of sound procedures for ensuring reliable and objective results and for quantifying outcomes.

8. Focus Group in Practice

The chapter provides an extended example of one application includes a representative reports.

9. Other Group Methods

The nominal group technique
The Delphi technique
Brainstorming and synectics

Goldman, A. E., & McDonald, S. S., (1987) The group dept interview: Priccipals and practice, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Princton Hall. Henderson, Naomi R. (2009). Managing Moderator Stress: Take a Deep Breath. You Can Do This. Marketing Research, Vol. 21 Issue 1, p28-29. Stewart W., D., Shamdasani N. P., Rook W., D. (2007) Focus Groups, Theory and Practice. Sage Publications, Inc.
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