- Focus groups are easy. Focus groups may appear easy, but they in fact require careful planning, elaborate logistical preparation, thoughtful execution, and detailed analysis.
- Focus groups are quick. A general rule in focus group research is to continue conducting interviews until no new or relevant information emerges from the groups. Typically, the first two groups with a particular audience provide a considerable amount of new information, but by the third or fourth session little new information emerges. A common timeline consists of one month to plan the project (e.g., clarify the research questions, develop interview questions), one month to organize and conduct the groups themselves, one month to analyze the data, and at least a week or two to write up what you have learned.
- Focus groups are cheap. Potential costs include incentives for participants (e.g., refreshments, stipends), room rental, equipment purchase or rental (you'll want to invest in a good tape recorder and microphone), honorarium for facilitators, recruitment costs (e.g., to reproduce recruitment flyers and/or to place a newspaper ad), transportation, babysitters, and payment for transcriptionists.
- Any five people make a focus group. The people you recruit to be in your focus group should be people who can answer your research questions. For example, if you want to understand the responses of heavy, frequent drinkers to your social norms marketing campaign, then it is heavy, frequent drinkers whom you must recruit. Even occasional drinkers will not be able to provide you with the information you are looking for.
- Focus group facilitators can play the discussion by ear. To a large extent, the quality of the results of focus group research is directly related to the skills and preparation of the facilitator. They must know how to use standard group process skills, such as setting ground rules, listening, responding, and using open-ended questions. They must also know how to advance a questioning protocol without interrupting the flow of the conversation and use questions that probe, test, and steer participants so that the group continues to address the main research questions. In essence, he or she must be able to maintain a big picture of the research under way, while paying close attention to the details under discussion.
- Focus group data can be used to replace survey questionnaires. Focus group data are different from the data produced by survey questionnaires, especially when the survey is administered to a randomized sample of a population. Survey questionnaires produce numerical data that answer the question of "how much" or "to what extent" a particular phenomenon is happening. Focus group data provide a context for understanding these numbers.
- You can generalize what you learn from a focus group to your population. One of the assumptions implicit in focus group research is that the sample, or the participants, may not necessarily reflect the entire population. However, if the focus group research has been carefully conducted and appropriately analyzed, then the researcher can cautiously transfer what she has learned in the focus group to other people who possess similar characteristics as the people in the focus group. If you discover something that you want to generalize, you might include it in future survey items.
- Qualitative data produced in focus groups are better than quantitative data. All research consists of a systematic way of finding out how the world works. Quantitative research uses numerical analysis to measure "how much" or "how many" of a particular phenomenon is occurring among a typically large, representative sample of people. Qualitative research describes "why or how" a particular phenomenon is occurring, usually among a relatively small, homogeneous group of people. These two categories of information are different, but equally important.
- Focus group results can be easily compiled and reported. Compiling focus group results involves the identification of themes, patterns, similarities, and differences in the data within and across all the groups. It also involves preparing a written summary that includes quotations from the groups. Doing this well takes time and effort.
- Focus groups pose no risk to participants. Focus group participants should have a clear understanding of why they are being asked to participate and how their participation will contribute to the research. They should also be assured that stories shared in the context of the group will not be shared with others outside of the group.
Adapted from Fabiano, P. and Lederman, L. C. (April, 2002). Working Paper #3: Top Ten Misperceptions of Focus Group Research. A publication of The Report on Social Norms. Paperclip Communications.
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