Basics of Conducting Focus Groups

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    Basics of Conducting Focus Groups

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

    Sections in This Topic Include

    Preparing for Session
    Developing Questions
    Planning the Session
    Facilitating Session
    Immediately After Session

    General Information and Resources
    Ethics and Conducting Research

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    Focus groups are a powerful means to evaluate services or test new ideas. Basically,
    focus groups are interviews, but of 6-10 people at the same time in the same
    group. One can get a great deal of information during a focus group session.

    Preparing for the Session

    1. Identify the major objective of the meeting.
    2. Carefully develop five to six questions (see below).
    3. Plan your session (see below).
    4. Call potential members to invite them to the meeting.
    Send them a follow-up invitation with a proposed agenda,
    session time and list of questions the group will discuss. Plan
    to provide a copy of the report from the session to each member
    and let them know you will do this.
    5. About three days before the session, call each member
    to remind them to attend.

    Developing Questions

    1. Develop five to six questions – Session should
    last one to 1.5 hours — in this time, one can ask at most five
    or six questions.
    2. Always first ask yourself what problem or need will be
    addressed by the information
    gathered during the session,
    e.g., examine if a new service or idea will work, further understand
    how a program is failing, etc.
    3. Focus groups are basically multiple interviews.
    Therefore, many of the same guidelines for conducting focus groups
    are similar to conducting interviews (see the Basics
    of Conducting Interviews
    ).

    Planning the Session

    1. Scheduling – Plan meetings to be one to 1.5 hours
    long. Over lunch seems to be a very good time for other to find
    time to attend.
    2. Setting and Refreshments – Hold sessions in a
    conference room, or other setting with adequate air flow and lighting.
    Configure chairs so that all members can see each other. Provide
    name tags for members, as well. Provide refreshments, especially
    box lunches if the session is held over lunch.
    3. Ground Rules – It’s critical that all members
    participate as much as possible, yet the session move along while
    generating useful information. Because the session is often a
    one-time occurrence, it’s useful to have a few, short ground rules
    that sustain participation, yet do so with focus. Consider the
    following three ground rules: a) keep focused, b) maintain momentum
    and c) get closure on questions.
    4. Agenda – Consider the following agenda: welcome,
    review of agenda, review of goal of the meeting, review of ground
    rules, introductions, questions and answers, wrap up.
    5. Membership – Focus groups are usually conducted
    with 6-10 members who have some similar nature, e.g., similar
    age group, status in a program, etc. Select members who are likely
    to be participative and reflective. Attempt to select members
    who don’t know each other.
    6. Plan to record the session with either an audio or audio-video
    recorder.
    Don’t count on your memory. If this isn’t practical,
    involve a co-facilitator who is there to take notes.

    Facilitating the Session

    1. Major goal of facilitation is collecting useful information
    to meet goal of meeting.

    2. Introduce yourself and the co-facilitator, if used.
    3. Explain the means to record the session.
    4. Carry out the agenda – (See “agenda”
    above).
    5. Carefully word each question before that question
    is addressed by the group. Allow the group a few minutes for each
    member to carefully record their answers. Then, facilitate discussion
    around the answers to each question, one at a time.
    6. After each question is answered, carefully reflect back
    a summary of what you heard (the note taker may do this).

    7. Ensure even participation. If one or two people
    are dominating the meeting, then call on others. Consider using
    a round- table approach, including going in one direction around
    the table, giving each person a minute to answer the question.
    If the domination persists, note it to the group and ask for ideas
    about how the participation can be increased.
    8. Closing the session – Tell members that they
    will receive a copy of the report generated from their answers,
    thank them for coming, and adjourn the meeting.

    Immediately After Session

    1. Verify if the tape recorder, if used, worked throughout
    the session.

    2. Make any notes on your written notes,
    e.g., to clarify any scratching, ensure pages are numbered, fill
    out any notes that don’t make senses, eta.
    3. Write down any observations made during the session.
    For example, where did the session occur and when, what was the
    nature of participation in the group? Were there any surprises
    during the session? Did the tape recorder break?


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