Methods, Tools and Techniques are ways of gathering data and collecting the information to learn what changes have happened.

OVERVIEW

A focus group is a managed group interview or discussion with people who share similar characteristics or a common situation. They may have been programme participants, live in the same neighbourhood or have something in common, such as living with a disability.

Focus groups are used a lot. They must be well planned and managed. The facilitator creates an environment that encourages participants to share their perceptions and opinions on a predetermined set of topics. The number of participants varies, though four to six is common. Groups larger than eight can be harder to manage.

Focus groups are a qualitative data collection method. That means the data is descriptive and is not usually counted.  Focus groups are often used as a follow-up to a survey, to gain more in-depth reaction or explore survey themes. Focus groups can also be used before you design and conduct a survey, to help you understand the issues it will canvas.

As well as evaluating a programme, there are many other reasons an organisation may want to conduct focus groups.

Focus Groups: A guide to facilitating your own


This focus groups guide suggests these reasons:

  • You want to understand the perception of your organisation. Does the public understand who you are, what you do, and why?
  • Before evaluating the results of a service, you want first to assess how you implemented it, compared with how you planned it. How much do service staff, clients and volunteers agree on what was done and how changes happened along the way?
  • After 10 years in operation, you want to know whether your nonprofit’s governance structure, and policies and procedures are effective, transparent, and culturally appropriate. Does the organisation as a whole reflect community priorities and/or the values governances wants to be known for? Does the governance structure inspire trust in leadership and convey quality in the services being offered?
  • Your organisation is considering investing in a new and controversial way to improve young mothers’ health. Are your clients interested and supportive?

This fact sheet says focus groups share features with other forms of group discussion.
The features that set focus groups apart are:

  • A plan for a controlled process and environment in which interactions among participants take place.
  • Use of a structured process to collect and interpret data.
LOCAL CASE STUDY

Learn how Cholmondeley used focus groups to help align its services to better meet the needs of the people it supports.

HOW IT WORKS

What is the timeframe and what needs to happen by when, to inform decision making?

Preparation to run a focus group includes thinking about:

  • How structured it should be.
  • Who the participants should be.
  • Who are the most appropriate and effective facilitator/s.
  • What the questions should be.
  • How responses will be recorded.
  • What tikanga and ground rules should apply or be negotiated with participants.
USEFUL RESOURCES
  • This guide to focus groups provides a detailed list of considerations for questions.
  • Page 39 of this resource provides detailed estimate of the costs, time and resources needed and it provides a step-by-step guide for its application.
  • For more in-depth appreciation of this approach, this book chapter provides an in-depth discussion about Focus Groups from a sociological perspective. It suggests good practice and processes to gather evidence.

Advantages


  • Can benefit participants by giving them a chance to reflect and share.
  • Can help inform, compare and validate other forms of data collected about the service or project.
  • Allows stories to be shared briefly.

Limitations


  • Research happens in a structured setting.
  • Needs good facilitation to stay on topic.
  • Research suggests that group discussion can cause participant attitudes to become more extreme.
  • Focus groups require self-disclosure of information by participants, but the views and values of participants may render certain topics off limits.
  • Participants may say things that portray themselves, the service or organisation more or less “favourably”.
  • Emotionally charged and deeply personal issues may cause distress and/or conflict.