Dos and Don’ts for focus group discussions

Photo0082 A focus group discussion gathers together a group of people with some common interests, and asks their opinions about specific product, programs, or experiences. They can be especially useful for researchers who are unfamiliar with the local context. It can also help researchers to frame their questions using more interpretable vocabulary. To know more about how our members think of our savings and credit services, I plan to conduct several focus group interviews with members of the Nkokonjeru SACCO. Drafting up the questions seems to an easy job, but checking their appropriateness proves to be hard. Patton (2002) explains the features of focus group interviews

Unlike a series of one-on-one interviews, in a focus group participants get to hear each other’s responses and to make additional comments beyond their own original responses as they hear what other people have to say. However, participants need not agree with each other or reach any kind of consensus, Nor is it necessary for people to disagree. The object is to get high-quality data in social context where people can consider their own views in the context of the views of others.

My friend Lauren, a PhD student in agriculture conducting research in Nkokonjeru, lent me a book called Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation, by Sharen Merriam. There is a section on designing and conducting focus group interviews. As I was reading, I jotted down points that are easily overlooked by novice researchers like me. 1. Four types of questions should are the most appropriate for focus group discussions: – Questions about experience or behavior, e.g. “tell me about your typical day at work.” – Questions about opinions and value, e.g. “what is your opinion as to …?” – Questions about feelings. These can also be observed in facial expressions, voice and physical movements of respondents. – Questions about certain knowledge. – Questions about ideal situations, e.g. “what do you think an ideal savings account should look like?” Some questions should be avoided in focus group interviews. The most obvious is yes-or-no question, because they do not provide any information. A definitive answer cannot reveal the underlying thought process of the decision maker. Interviewer should also avoid asking multiple questions at the same time which leaves respondents with little time to reflect and arrange their answers. Another subtle type of questions to avoid is leading questions where researchers (sometimes inadvertently) are incorporating personal bias or wrong assumptions into the questions. An example provided by the book is “What emotional problems have you experienced since losing your job?” Here the researcher assumes that everyone who loses a job will encounter emotional problems. The biggest challenge in focus group discussions is probably not to come up with the questions, but to find the people who are willing to participate. I plan to organize at least four focus group discussions (classified by occupation) among SACCO members. It would be ideal if we could conduct these at the bank, but members are unlikely to come to the bank and spend one hour here without compensation. This is especially true for farmers who live far away from the bank Instead, we are trying to ask one farmer member of the bank to help us gather a group of farmers whom we shall meet at the specified village. For those who are interested, the picture is the bank where I am working at. For boda boda drivers, we are adopting a different strategy — the cashier will call some of his friends and see if they’re willing to come to the bank after lunch for the discussion. We shall see if it works out.


7 thoughts on “Dos and Don’ts for focus group discussions

  1. It is a very good point that the interviewer should try to elicit interviewees’ underlying decision-making process instead of a mere definitive answer. A logistic question regarding this is how the interviewer can record as much information of this kind in a group interview especially when more than one interviewers are answering and/or non-verbal information, e.g. facial expressions, body languages, is involved. Do you think complementary methods such as tape/video recording would help or just hold interviewers back from telling what they really think? How about having multiple interviewees, or one interviewee plus assistant recorders?

    • Having an assistant will help, but good coordination is needed. I don’t think multiple answering can be avoided in focus group discussions. The group size should be set appropriately and respondents should be seated in a circle so that the interviewer can observe their behaviors easily.

    • Whether recording will be an issue depends on the sensitivity of the topic and the culture of the people interviewed. It’s possible that people will grow comfortable after the discussion begins and even forget they’re being recorded.

      • Thanks for the replies. Let’s see how the group discussion goes. I will be very curious to know whether there would be sample selection among the cashier’s friends who finally show up, say, they all come to support the cashier. ; )

      • Yes this happened. The cashier contacted 10 people and 6 people showed up. Most of them are active members and familiar with bank officers. I’ve had an interesting experience today. Will write a post soon.

  2. Pingback: What I learned from my first focus group discussion | Maryandmusic's Blog

  3. Pingback: More tips on focus group discussions | Maryandmusic's Blog

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