One of the most popular and most widely used method of qualitative social research is the instrument of the focus group. In contrast to individual interviews, a focus group is a hosted and focused discussion of a group of persons, which fosters mutual exchange and the confrontation with perceptions, opinions and ideas of other panelists.
Group dynamic processes lead to a more intensive debate of the participants on the object of interest. The members of a focus group have to legitimate their own opinions to other participants. They can benefit from each other by the clash of different perceptions and views. This mutual exchange leads to deeper individual considerations. Important key aspects become more evident and more clearly than in individual interviews.
At the same time, the group situation causes emotional reactions of the participants, which would not occur in an individual interview. This provides a deep insight into the mindset of the members of a focus group.
The starting point of the focused interview is a real situation experienced by the participants. The researcher studies the reactions of the people observed in this situation. Based on the observation analysis, the researcher drafts an interview guide with relevant topics to be addressed. The topics will be treated in the focus group with open questions and narrative reporting and responses.
Steps to be taken into account when planning a focus group:
SELECTION OF PARTICIPANTS:
The selection of participants depends on the nature of the topic and questions of interest.
Participants should have a sufficient level of interest and participation with respect to the topic and questions of interest.
To facilitate the discussion of different opinions and point of views, a minimum degree of homogeneity of the participants is necessary, but also sufficiently large differences.
Homogeneity should be ensured, relating to occupation, education, socio-demographic criteria and similar, because these issues can lead to differences in understanding and comprehension.
Do not include different groups in one focus group. In most in cases the differences are too big to provide in-depth discussions. In these cases a series of focus groups is recommended.
A close relationships can develop uniformity. As a result, the number of participants will be reduced.
The upper limit is 10 people. Otherwise, a professional interview can not be guaranteed. Each additional participant reduces the talking time per person and makes longer discussions almost impossible. Forced speech pauses can also cause individuals to keep silent.
Generally speaking, the more experienced the participants are, the smaller can be the focus group.
In the selection of participants, the use of a checklist is very helpful.
LOCATION OF THE FOCUS GROUP:
In order to avoid contact fears of the participants, focus groups are organised at an independent location.
DURATION OF THE FOCUS GROUP:
The duration of a focus group vary, depending on the intensity and number of participants.
The focus group should be brought to an end before the condition of the participants andthe host are There may becases, inwhich new aspects will be discussed even after 3 hours. Sometimes the discussion stands still after littlemore than 1 hour.
Constantprodding can result inresistanceon the side of the participants.
Drinks and snacks help to loosen up the discussion and disguise the formal nature of such an event.
To a large extent, the success of a focus group will be determined by the selection of a suitable discussion host. He must care for a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
In warm-up laps the host tries to loosen the atmosphere through mutual understanding and a first careful approach to the subject. In this way, constraints of the participants are slowly degraded. Slowly the host tries to focus the discussion on the core theme.
Own views and opinions on the subject are out-of-place, since they could push the participants in a certain direction. Instead, the host should encourage the participants to give detailed statements and also to deepen individual statements, in order to obtain a detailed picture of the underlying structures.
Questions should be submitted as open as possible.
The starting point of the focused interview is a real situation, that was experienced by the participants of the interview. The researcher, who has also observed the situation, is trying to find meaningful elements and behaviour patterns of the participants. The researcher conducts an observation analysis by dealing with the situation and studying the reactions of the people observed in the specific situation.
To simplify subsequent evaluation and presentation, the group discussion can be recorded (audio and/or video). Participants need to be asked before the interview.
Based on the observation analysis, the researcher drafts a guide for the interview. The guide contains all relevant topics to be addressed, and the important aspects and elements of the situation. The topics will be treated with open questions and narrative reporting and responses.
EVALUATION AND REPORTING:
Audio and video recording of the discussion will help to analyse and evaluate the focus group.
An exact transcript of the entire discussion represents the starting point. On the basis of the transcript, relevant categories have to be formed. Notes and impressions of the host can help to deepen the impression.
In the case of a series of focus groups on the same subject, it is advisable to perform the evaluations separately and to present the total result in a final report. The context of each focus group must be documented seperately.
IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF THE EVALUATION PHASE:
What is the true meaning behind each statement? Do all participants use the same wording?
What is the context of a statement within the discussion?
Is a statement a result of an open question, or was is made because of a statement of any other participant?
Are the various statements of the same person consistent?
Did you take into account the number and details of certain discussion points?
Does the discussion return to the same few central key issues?
Do all participants take part intensively?
Are the statements confined to a few participants?
Did you take into account the emotional intensity of the statements? In particular, audio and video recordings are very helpful here. An altered tone, frequently changing seating positions, raising the voice, interrupting another participant may indicate emotional reactions.