A Focus Group Method of Data Collection … Essay
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User Guide on Focus Group as a Method of Data Collection
What's a Focus Group?
A focus group refers to a group interview of about six to twelve individuals that have common interests or characteristics. The group is headed by a facilitator based on a predetermined set of topics. The facilitator establishes a surrounding, which encourages those taking part to freely air their thoughts and opinions. Focus groups are basically a qualitative data collection technique, implying that the data is descriptive and cannot be numerically measured (Chestnutt & Robson, 2002). Focus groups were initially used as a research technique in market study, originating from the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University back in the 1940s. The eventual success of focus groups as a marketing device in the private sector led to its application in public sector marketing (Bloor, Frankland, Thomas & Robson, 2001). Focus groups and less structured interviews have several similar features; however, there is actually more to them than simply gathering similar data from several participants right away. A focus group can also be described as a group discussion on a specific subject meant for research purposes. This particular discussion is directed, supervised, and recorded by a researcher, at times, referred to as a facilitator/moderator (Morgan, 2002). On the contrary, focus group methods, as applied in the private and public sectors, have deviated with time. This paper thus seeks to describe a guide for utilizing focus groups as a data collection technique, majorly in academic research.
When Focus Groups Are Used
Focus groups are utilized for the production of data on collective thoughts, and the meanings that lie beneath those particular thoughts. Also, they are helpful in producing a rich comprehension of the beliefs and encounters of participants (Morgan, 2002). Proposed criteria for applying focus groups include: an independent technique, for studies associated with group norms, procedures, and meanings; to elaborate, extend, contest or qualify information gathered though other techniques; in a multi-technique design, to explore a subject or gather group language or stories to be utilized in later stages; and sourcing feedback findings to research participants (Bloor et al., 2001).
According to Morgan (2002), focus groups need to be avoided based on the following criteria: if paying attention to the thoughts of the participants creates expectations for the outcome of the study that cannot be met; if participants are uncomfortable with one another, and shall thus not talk about their thoughts and emotions freely; if the researcher's topic of interest is not a topic that the participants would want to talk about; and, if statistical information is needed. In as much as focus groups provide insight and depth, they cannot generate numerical results (Gill, Stewart, Treasure & Chadwick, 2008).
Conducting Focus Groups
There is actually no 'best' solution to group composition, and group mix shall always influence the information, with regards to things like the mix of ages, gender, and the participants' social and professional statuses. Of importance is that the researcher gives due consideration on the influence of group mix before the focus group carries on (Stewart, Shamdasani & Rook, 2007).
i. Recruitment (Using Flyers)
Identification and selection of participants is a vital process in focus groups, with the objective being to ensure the group/sample is representative of the target audience for quality data. You can use various methods, depending on the target audience; invitation letter, flyers, newsletter/website, and personal invitation. Fig. 1 below is a sample of an invitation flyer.
Figure 1: Focus Group Recruitment Flyer Sample (Adopted from Win Network, 2015)
Flyers can be distributed to the target audience through various methods, among them; point pickups, distribution personnel, or as a poster, depending on the target audience demographics.
ii. Invitee Tracking Form
Once the flyers are out, interested persons will make contact through the provided means, mostly through a phone call. It is vital that the person's details are captured for follow up purposes. The Invitee tracking form comes in handy for this. Fig. 2 below is a sample of an invitee tracking form.
Figure 2: Focus Group Invitee Tracking Form (Adopted from Krueger & Casey, 2009)
iii. Ethical Guidelines
Participants in the focus group ought to be protected from harm. Nevertheless, focus groups present a unique challenge in terms of privacy. Educational institutions, companies, and school districts normally require Institutional Review Board (IRB) for review of research activities (Morgan, 2002). Be sure to submit your research procedures, methods, and questions for review by the relevant IRB. During the sessions, the moderator should set the ground rules for participation and ensure adherence to the same.
iv. Consent Form
The qualification towards an ethical focus group study is informed consent (Gill et al., 2008; Morgan, 2002). The consent form should outline the purpose, procedures, benefits, and risks of participating (see fig. 3 below) and it requires individual participant's signature as a sign of willingly partaking in the event. The consent form should also inform participants that they will be recorded and assure them of confidentiality and safety of the information they provide.
Figure 3: Sample Consent form (Adopted from The Puget Sound Consortium, n.d)
v. Data Analysis and Reporting
Data analysis is done with the aim of producing a statement of what was established through the discussions and it is guided by the research objective. Analysis should be done so as to address the purpose and the various levels of analysis range from descriptions and interpretations to recommendations (Krueger & Casey, 2009). Planning on the level of analysis is important as it allows for estimation of time and personnel resources required. Closely related to analysis is a plan of how data will be organized, for example, as verbatim transcripts of the discussions, or are assistant's notes to be used. Data organization is also important in harnessing reporting. Reporting data should also be done as per the various stakeholders' requirements, for example, reporting might require a PowerPoint presentation then a comprehensive report afterwards, in the care of academic reports (The Puget Sound Consortium, n.d).
Preparing Focus Group Questions
A focus group guide refers to a set of questions and prompts for the facilitator to use. The facilitator would normally ask the group various questions and provide time for the participants to respond to one another's views. A focus group guide acts as a "road map" as well as a memory aid for the facilitator. When coming up with the focus group guide, identify from whom you want to acquire the information, what kind of data you want to acquire, and what use you have for the data. The same focus group guide shall be utilized for all focus groups (Barbour, 2005). Just like research interviews, the interview schedule for focus groups is frequently no more structured than a loose schedule of topics to be spoken about. Stewart et al. (2007) propose two general principles when it comes to preparing an interview schedule for focus groups: questions should shift from general to more specific ones, and question order should be relative to the significance of issues in the research agenda. However, there could be some disagreement amidst these two principles and tradeoffs are frequently required, even though discussions frequently assume a life of their own that shall impact or determine the order in which the issues are covered (Gill et al., 2008).
There are several ethical concerns that focus group facilitators should know and address appropriately. The most crucial are: the focus groups' voluntary nature, and the need to respect anonymity and discretion. Nobody should be forced to be a part of a focus group, nor should they be compelled to stay in them, if they wish to leave. No use should be made of the data provided in a focus group other than for the reason for which the permission was granted. Individuals that take part in focus groups should be guaranteed that no data shall be exposed, which could identify them, and that the opinions they give are not reported (either in writing or verbal) in a manner that certain individuals or events could be identified. Individuals shall either not participate in a focus group, if they are not provided that guarantee, or they might distort or even restrain data, if they feel that it shall be utilized for other reasons (Gill et al., 2008; Hennink, 2007).
Conducting a Focus Group Session
You shall require a technician, note taker, and a facilitator. The technician is accountable for recording the group; and the recording shall be used to develop a transcript of the event. The note taker is simply an observer and does not interact with the focus group. The notes need to entail a sense of what was said by every individual. The facilitator guides the focus group through the discussion and ensures that the group remains focused on the discussion topics (Krueger & Casey, 2009).
Moderating a focus group appears simple when well done, but needs intricate set of skills that are associated with the following principles: participants have useful opinions and… [END OF PREVIEW]
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