Research Methods STA630
FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSION
A visitor to a locality stops by a house and inquires about the address of a resident he wants to see. May
be he starts talking with a couple of persons asking for their help. In the meantime, some other
passersby, or coming out of other houses join, showing their curiosity about the issue. They ask for
some more information about the resident concerned, and then start discussing among them to come up
with the exact identification of the resident. As an outcome of this discussion they would guide the
visitor to reach the destination. This is quite a common feature in a folk society (village, neighborhood
in a city) where we may start talking with a couple of persons and others come and join the
conversation. This is an example of informal focus group discussion, which is built upon the social
networks that operate in a natural setting. These social networks include both kinsfolk and other
neighbors. In some cases the participants may be the local decision makers.
In research, focus group discussions (FGD) are a more formal way of getting groups of people to
discuss selected issues. A focus group discussion is a group discussion of 6-12 persons guided by a
facilitator, during which group members talk freely and spontaneously about a certain topic. There may
be some disagreement about the exact number of participants in the discussion, as one comes across
variations in numbers (6 to 10, 6 to 12, 6 to15, 8to 10, 5 to 7) in different books on research methods.
The trend has been toward smaller groups due to some problems with the larger groups, which like:
· In a bigger group each participant's speaking time is substantially restricted.
Dominant/submissive relationships are almost inevitable.
· Frustration or dissatisfaction among group members is likely to result because of some
members' inability to get a turn to speak. This produces lower quality and quantity of data.
· Participants are often forced into long speeches, often containing irrelevant information, when
they get to speak only infrequently.
· The tendency for side conversations between participants increases.
In contrast, smaller group sessions are felt to provide greater depth response for each participant. The
group is often more cohesive and interactive, particularly when participants are professionals, such as
physicians or pharmacists.
The key factor concerning group size is generally the of group purpose. If the purpose of the group is to
generate as many ideas as possible, a larger group may be most useful. If the purpose of the group is to
maximize the depth of expression from each participant, a smaller group works better.
The Purpose of FGD
The purpose of an FGD is to obtain in-depth information on concepts, perceptions, and ideas of the
group. An FGD aims to be more than a question-answer interaction (Focus group interview is
different). Here the idea is that group members discuss the topic among themselves.
Formal Focus Groups
Formal groups are formally constituted, that is these are organized in advance by inviting the selected
individuals to participate in the discussion on a specific issue. They are structured groups brought
together in which the participants are expected to have similar background, age, sex, education, religion,
or similar experiences. Similarity in background is likely to make them comfortable where they could
express their viewpoint frankly and freely. If the big boss and his junior officer working in an
organization together participate in an FGD, the junior officer may not be able to express his or her
opinion freely in the presence of his/her boss. Similarly, in some situations the children may experience
some inhibitions in expressing their views on a sensitive issue in the presence of their parents. A lot
depends on the kind of issue that is to be discussed.
Research Methods STA630
The group is guided by a moderator/facilitator. The participants address a specific issue (talk freely,
agree or disagree among them) within a specified time in accordance with clearly spelled out rules of
Designing a Focus group Study
As with other approaches to studying social phenomena, designing a focus group study requires careful
thought and reflection. Given that focus groups can be used for a variety of purposes within social
research, the design of focus group study will depend on its purpose. At one extreme, FGD is used at
the exploratory stage of the study (FGD may help in the identification of variables, formulation of
questions and response categories) and at the other extreme, when qualitative information is needed on
issues about which the researchers have substantial background knowledge and a reasonable grasp of
the issues. Here we are focusing on the latter type of design.
How to conduct FGD?
The following guideline may be provided for conducting FGD.
· Selection of topic, questions to be discussed. It is appropriate to define and clarify the concepts
to be discussed. The basic idea is to lay out a set of issues for the group to discuss. It is
important to bear in mind that the moderator will mostly be improvising comments and
questions within the framework set by the guidelines. By keeping the questions open-ended, the
moderator ca stimulates useful trains of thought in the participants that were not anticipated.
· Selecting the study participants: Given a clear idea of the issues to be discussed, the next
critical step in designing a focus group study is to decide on the characteristics of the
individuals who are to be targeted for sessions. It is often important to ensure that the groups all
share some common characteristics in relation to the issue under investigation. If you need to
obtain information on a topic from several different categories of informants who are likely to
discuss the issue from different perspectives, you should organize a focus group for each major
category. For example a group for men and a group for women, or a group for older women
and group for younger women. The selection of the participants can be on the basis of
purposive or convenience sampling. The participants should receive the invitations at least one
or two days before the exercise. The invitations should explain the general purpose of the FGD.
· Physical arrangements: Communication and interaction during the FGD should be encouraged
in every way possible. Arrange the chairs in a circle. Make sure the area will be quite,
adequately lighted, etc., and that there will be no disturbances. Try to hold the FGD in a neutral
setting that encourages participants to freely express their views. A health center, for example,
is not a good place to discuss traditional medical beliefs or preferences for other types of
treatment. Neutral setting could also be from the perspective of a place where the participants
feel comfortable to come over and above their party factions.
Conducting the session:
· One of the members of the research team should act as a "facilitator" or "moderator" for the
focus group. One should serve as "recorder."
· Functions of the Facilitator: The facilitator should not act as an expert on the topic. His or her
role is to stimulate and support discussion. He should perform the following functions:
o Introduce the session: He or she should introduce himself/herself as facilitator and intro duce
the recorder. Introduce the participants by name or ask them to introduce themselves (or
develop some new interesting way of introduction). Put the participants at ease and explain the
purpose of the FGD, the kind of information needed, and how the information will be used (e.g.,
for planning of a health program, an education program, et.).
o Encourage discussion: The facilitator should be enthusiastic, lively, and humorous and show
his/her interest in the group's ideas. Formulate questions and encourage as many participants as
Research Methods STA630
possible to express their views. Remember there are no "right" or "wrong" answers. Facilitator
should react neutrally to both verbal and nonverbal responses.
Encourage involvement: Avoid a question and answer session. Some useful techniques
include: asking for clarification (can you tell me more?); reorienting the discussion when it goes
off the track (saying: wait, how does this relate to the issue? Using one participant's remarks to
direct a question to another); bringing in reluctant participants (Using person's name, requesting
his/her opinion, making more frequent eye contact to encourage his participation); dealing with
dominant participants (avoiding eye contact or turning slightly away to discourage the person
from speaking, or thanking the person and changing the subject).
Avoid being placed in the role of expert: When the facilitator is asked for his/her opinion by a
respondent, remember that he or she is not there to educate of inform. Direct the question back
to the group by saying: "What do you think?" "What would you do?" Set aside time, if
necessary, after the session to give participants the information they have asked.
Do not try to give comments on everything that is being said. Do not feel you have to say
Something during every pause in the discussion. Wait a little and see what happens.
Control the timing of the meeting but unobtrusively: Listen carefully and move the
discussion from topic to topic. Subtly control the time allocated to various topics so as to
maintain interest. If the participants spontaneously jump from one topic to the other, let the
discussion continue for a while because useful additional information may surface and then
summarize the points brought up and reorient the discussion.
Take time at the end of the meeting to summarize, check for agreement and thank the
participants: Summarize the main issues brought up, check whether all agree and ask for
additional comments. Thank the participants and let them know that their ideas had been
valuable contribution and will be used for planning the proposed research/intervention/or what
ever the purpose of FGD was.
Listen to the additional comments made after the meeting. Sometime some valuable
information surfaces, which otherwise may remain hidden.
Table of Contents: