Welcome back! For those of you new to this blog–I post every Tuesday, rain or shine…at least I have for the past 6 weeks…:) I guess that is MY new year’s resolution–write here every week; on Tuesdays…now to today’s post…
What one thing are you going to learn this year about evaluation?
Something about survey design?
OR logic modeling?
OR program planning?
OR focus groups?
OR…(fill in the blank and let me know…)
A colleague of mine asked me the other day about focus groups.
Specifically, the question was, “What makes a good focus group question?”
I went to Dick Krueger and Mary Anne Casey’s book (Focus Groups, 3rd ed. Sage Publications, 2000). On page 40, they have a section called “Qualities of Good Questions”. These make sense.They say: Good questions…
- …sound conversational
- …use words participants would use.
- …are easy to say.
- …are clear.
- …are short.
- …are open-ended.
- …are one dimensional.
- …include good directions.
Let’s explore these a bit.
- Since focus groups are a social experience (albeit, a data gathering one), conversational questions help set an informal tone.
- If participants don’t/can’t understand your questions (because you use jargon, technical terms, etc.), you won’t get good information. Without good information, your focus group will not help answer your inquiry.
- You don’t want to stumble over the words, so avoid complicated sentences.
- Make sure your participants know what you are asking. Long introductions can be confusing, not clarifying. Messages may be mixed and thus interpreted in different ways. All this results information that doesn’t answer your inquiry.
- Like being clear, short questions tend to avoid ambiguity and yield good data.
- To quote Dick and Mary Anne, “Open-ended questions are a hallmark of focus group interviewing.” You want an opinion. You want an explanation. You want rich description. Yes/No doesn’t give you good data.
- Using synonyms add richness to questioning–using synonyms confuses the participant. Confused participants yields ambiguous data. Avoid using synonyms–keep questions one-dimensional keeps questions clear.
- Participants need clear instructions when asked to do something in the focus group. “Make a list” needs to have “on the piece of paper in front of you” added. A list in the participants head may get lost and you loose the data.
Before you convene your focus group, make sure you have several individuals (3 – 5) who are similar to and not included in your target audience review the focus group questions. It is always a good idea to pilot any question you use to gather data.
Ellen Taylor-Powell (at University of Wisconsin Extension) has a Quick Tips sheet on focus groups for more information. To access it go to: http://www.uwex.edu/ces/pdande/resources/pdf/Tipsheet5.pdf