Focus groups

Posted on March 1, 2011 | in Uncategorized | by CRC

Ahh..the focus group! This is perhaps one of the most well-known evaluation methods. What makes focus groups so popular? First, a focus group is typically a small group of people (<10) who are guided through a structured conversation by a facilitator (likely the evaluator in this case). The evaluator will work with stakeholders to identify who should be a part of the focus group, the purpose of the focus group, and what questions should be asked.

A strength of focus groups is that they are often a low cost approach that allows group members to provide information about at topic in a way that the resulting information will likely be richer than if only a single person was interviewed. However, focus groups can’t be used for pre/post comparisons or when confidentiality must be guaranteed. A key component of the focus group is a strong facilitator that keeps the conversation on topic but still allows the group members to address relevant issues that were not in the initial focus group plan. The facilitator must also be comfortable encouraging participation from all group members without offending more opinionated group members. Being aware of the time and allowing for breaks is also important.

Focus groups are popular given their interactive nature. It also gives those relevant to the program a chance to share their thoughts in a way that is not confrontational (this also needs a strong facilitator). Those thoughts are likely to be richer than those that could be captured through paper and pencil or even a one-on-one interview. Returning to the low cost (compared to other approaches) of focus groups is also key. Though time will be spent developing the questions, gathering the participants, paying the facilitator, these costs are still likely to be less than if separate interviews were conducted. Additionally, despite the challenges of bringing together groups of people, the time demands on the evaluator are more limited.

Overall, the benefits exponentially exceed the costs, particularly in terms of the quality of information that can be obtained.

Resource: Campbell, P.B. (2001).Conducting focus groups._Prompting Effective Program Evaluation: Reading 4-6.The American Physiological Society.