Focus groups are a wonderful data gathering collection methodology. Not only are there different skills to learn for interviewing, analysis gives you the opportunity to explore qualitative data analysis. (It is all related after all.)
Now, I will confess that I’ve only ordered the 5th edition of the Krueger and Casey book (I don’t have it). I’m eager to see what is new. So I’ll settle for the 4th edition and try and regale you with information you may not know. (I will talk in a future post about the ways virtual focus groups are envisioned.)
Focus group describes (although sometimes incorrectly) a variety of group processes. Krueger and Casey give the reader a sense of to what to pay attention and to what is based on faulty data. So starting at the beginning, let’s look at an overview of what exactly is a focus group.
Groups are experiences that affect the individual throughout life and are used for planning, decision making, advising, learning, sharing, self-help, problem solving, among others. Yet group membership often leaves the individual unfulfilled, as time wasted. Krueger and Casey (abbreviated KC henceforth) as say that this failure of group activity is probably due to “unclear purpose and inappropriate process”.
Purpose is critical. Unless the purpose is clear at the outset, the group remains vague and unfocused, the participants confused or frustrated. The purpose is different for different types of groups, such as evaluative, marketing, political, etc. The other half of the above equation is process. If the leader doesn’t have the group process skills necessary to guide the group, the purpose may not be made clear because the direction is flawed. KC indicate the group process skills needed for one type of group may not work for another.
Focus groups provide the opportunity to gather information in the form of opinions, to listen to those opinions non-judgmentally, and to attempt to understand how people think about an issue, product, or service.
Participants are there because they all share similar characteristics, for example, they are all employed full time outside the home. They typically do not know each other, or know each other only in passing. The participants are not pressured to come to consensus. (Focus groups are not an example of nominal group technique as solutions are not sought nor ranked.) There is more than one group conducted so that trends and patterns can be collected. Then those comments (trends and patterns) are systematically analyzed.