What makes a good focus group? – Advanced qualitative methods



so our focus group Fiona now that's different from an individual interview isn't it what do you think is especially different about a focus group well the dynamic that you know people playing off each other is a both a strength of the focus group and also a challenge of a focus group and the fact that you you get you know different nuances of opinion sometimes some quite opposing opinions as a moderator you need to be able to keep it flowing but between people that might not agree with everything but that gives you wonderful data as well so they can be quite vibrant and dynamic if handled well and it a lot of it depends on the skill of the moderator but it's a great skill to learn and practice as part of a master's project I think yes I think probably it is more difficult working with a focus group just because you know there's more going on more to keep track of and the transcription can be very difficult as well but there's some tips aren't there that help with that well some things people say that some things make it a little bit easier for example going around the group to begin with getting a asking everyone to say a few words perhaps to introduce themselves so that you can you know pick up on their voice and and helps you to recognize who is speaking when you're listening back to the transcript mm-hmm and I think if you've practiced if you're done a pilot one then I think that really helps because you can then go into the real data collection knowing when you need to slow things down a little bit when you might need to pause and perhaps take a minute to reflect the group consensus perhaps and then say so what I'm hearing is that Margie and Pete are agreeing that XYZ but you know Fred and Frances you know find that difficult to get on board with because of ABC is that right and then you know you might just need a little bit of time to bring it together and then send it out again and if you've been through that transcription process you really understand why you need that at times because if everything everybody starts talking on top of each other and it starts snowballing it can get quite tricky cancer well that's right I think you know very difficult to work with that data if everyone's talking at once and I think you know just as in an individual interview one would like at the beginning to set the scene and you know get the process started in a nice way maybe that's even more important for a focus group yeah to do beginning a little bit of ground rules and ask everyone to you know to work with each other in a cigaret way encourage people just to speak one at a time mm-hmm exactly and I think it's important with any group dynamic to keep the topic in the middle so to speak that it's not that they're you know disagreeing with each other necessarily as far as people butting heads so to speak but there you're keeping the topic of conversation in the center and they're all contributing to it and bouncing off that does that make sense I don't know if that makes sense but they're not personally getting into you know a battle of words but it's like well let's bring it back to to the focus of the topic it's okay to disagree it's okay to all agree but that's what's in the center yeah I think that's right this idea of the center because you know what they were talking I was thinking about what when would you do a focus group rather than an individual interviewer and I suppose you know perhaps it's something to do with being interested having a research question that is more about shared understandings or shared processes or group processes rather than any one individuals experience or perceptions or beliefs and so yeah I would agree and I think also in practice it's a tool that is used a lot in different health settings getting a group of patients together to see what their experiences were like going through a certain system or working with a certain group going out into the community and doing focus groups about you know building a new hospital or whatever it might be so if people are going into applied positions afterwards this is a great skill to hone now that's true yes skill that's well worth applying yeah well worth developing because it is using lots of context isn't it we were talking about ethics in relation to interviews now the ethics in a focus group situation similar but subtly different for example confidentiality now if I'm if I'm interviewing you for you owner I can give you a cast iron assurance than what you tell me I will treat as confidential but in a focus group yes not just down to me and so we all as a group have to understand that we should respect one another's confidentiality and treat what we hear in the group as keep it in the crown and that's why I think it can be quite important to have the participants that might not necessarily know each other that well because if you are having an already established click-click whatever you want to call it or they know each other well they live in the same street or what-have-you and it's quite a personal issue versus how's the traffic on your street affecting you or the pollution or have you that seems fine but it was quite an emotional issue then that can be a little tricky I think ethically yes that's right there might be some subjects that people would prefer to talk about one to one then with a group of other people but it goes back to thinking what's my research question what's the right way for me to get data from the people who have identified as useful to me it's nice though if you've got a topic that perhaps you could look at different groups across different ages you've got a research question like well how is that with a younger group versus an older group or a group of younger men versus older men or women and man that can work quite nicely you can then look across the data more than you would do in a single case interview obviously you can't move across the the themes across participants you're looking at rich deep data from one person but a focus group you can then look for similarities and differences across the participants yeah that's fine that reminds me actually a student quite recently did his qualitative project with a focus group of men yeah and they were discussing their experiences of seeking help for health issues or you know going for health advice and you know talking around all that you know the different issues that perhaps our obstacles were meant to take themselves off to the GP and go along with concerns about their health but that was really interesting yes that's right quite a lot of you know interesting conversation got going between the men about you know finding they had shared experiences and in some ways that they differed and so on yes and from a practical point of view you are getting a lot of data in one fell swoop so to speak you know you might have six to eight participants in your focus group you might have a focus group for an hour and perhaps an hour and a half depends but it would take you a lot longer to gather that data if you were doing eight individual interviews wouldn't it that's right and you know in a way it's the data that it's all about tense maybe it's worth a little reflection about what makes good data oh good yeah let's do that

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