Moderating Focus Groups


Richard A. Krueger

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    I had known David Morgan for a number of years. Over the years we shared an interest in focus groups, and regularly our paths had crossed at professional events, at airports, or electronically by phone and e-mail. I found his advice and counsel on focus group interviewing to be valuable, particularly as academic institutions began to embrace qualitative research procedures.

    One day, the phone rang and it was David on the line. He asked if I'd be interested in working with him on a writing project on focus groups. He was vague and the ideas weren't fleshed out, but he got me interested. After weeks of pondering alternatives, we agreed that we'd pool our ideas and attempt to produce a workable kit for researchers. The field of focus group research was changing rather quickly and, as we learned new strategies and concepts, we wanted to pass these along to others.

    David insisted that the kit of books had to be complete, but I was more interested in enjoying the journey of writing. The process of writing shouldn't be drudgery but rather provide some enjoyment, perhaps both to the reader and the author. Looking back, it's been a pleasure to work with David on this project. He helped shape the approaches and was generous with his praise, offering insightful and valuable suggestions throughout the process. We both got our wishes. We feel that the information is complete, and we had a reasonable amount of fun in preparing it for you.

    Others have been instrumental in this book. Mary Anne Casey read and reread each section and offered enormous help in the logical flow and content of the book. Her enthusiasm, wit, and kindness added greatly. In reality, she is the coauthor, although her name is not listed on the cover. I've been fortunate to retell her stories; often, I've received credit when in fact I was merely repeating her experiences. Dr. Casey has helped teach hundreds of aspiring moderators and she, more than anyone else, reflects the qualities of the best moderators in showing empathy and sensitivity. She brought logic when I didn't know where I was going, she found the right word when I was confused, she added quality to the presentation in too many ways to mention.

    I tip my hat to hundreds of veteran focus group moderators throughout the country. I've watched many of them, listened to their stories, and read quite a few of their reports. They are a dedicated group of applied researchers from both academic and others from applied fields. My thanks to those who have taught me so much about focus group interviewing: Carol Bryant, Harold Cook, Mary Debus, Tom Greenbaum, Naomi Henderson, Reyn Kinzey, Ed Nelson, Marilyn Raush, Gail Redd, Ed Virant, and Rhonda Wiley-Jones.

    Thanks to my colleagues at the University of Minnesota for fostering a learning environment. I am especially appreciative of the guidance from George Copa, Judy Garrard, Jean King, Caroline Turner, and Howard Williams.

    Networks and contacts are critical. The American Evaluation Association and the Qualitative Research Consultants Association provided valuable forums for interaction and collegial sharing.

    The production quality was improved by Susan Wladaver-Morgan, who offered helpful editing suggestions. The staff at Sage Publications continually were most helpful. Their editors were encouraging, creative, and willing to take risks. Special thanks to Diana Axelsen, Ravi Balasuriya, Marquita Flemming, and C. Deborah Laughton, for eagerly contributing their talents.

    A good book is one that touches us in several ways. It should be serious, yet funny. It should be challenging, yet comfortable. It should raise the level of thought. But most of all, it should be fun to read. The best test is if you read more than what you intended. I hope that this book does that for you. May you find the insight, the seriousness, the guiding principles, and the humor in this volume.

    Introduction to the Focus Group Kit

    We welcome you to this series of books on focus group interviewing. We hope that you find this series helpful. In this section we would like to tell you a bit about our past work with focus groups, the factors that led to the creation of this series, and an overview of how the book is organized.

    We began our studies of focus group interviewing about the same time. Our academic backgrounds were different (David in sociology and Richard in program evaluation), and yet we were both drawn to focus group interviewing in the 1980s. We both had books published in 1988 on focus group interviewing that resulted from our research and practice with the methodology. At that time, we were unaware of one another's work and were pleased to begin a collegial relationship. Over the years, we've continued our studies independently, and occasionally our paths crossed and we had an opportunity to work together. In the last decade, we've worked together in writing articles, sharing advice on research studies, and teaching classes. We have generally found that we shared many common thoughts and concerns about focus group interviewing.

    During the 1990s, we found that interest in focus groups continued, and we both prepared second editions for our 1988 books. In 1995, the staff at Sage Publications asked us to consider developing a more in-depth treatment of focus group interviewing that would allow for more detail and guide researchers beyond the basic issues. We pondered the request and thought about how the materials might be presented. We weighed a variety of options and finally developed the kit in its present form. We developed this kit in an effort to help guide both novices and experts.

    In these books, the authors have occasionally chosen to use the word we. Although the authors share many common experiences with focus groups, our approaches can and do vary, as we hope is the case with other researchers as well. When you see the word we in the books of this series, it typically refers to a judgment decision by the specific author(s) of that particular volume. Much of what the authors have learned about focus groups has been acquired, absorbed, and assimilated from the experiences of others. We use we in circumstances where one of us personally has experienced a situation that has been verified by another researcher or when a practice or behavior has become standard accepted practice by a body of focus group moderators. The use of, on the other hand, tends to refer to situations and experiences that one of us has witnessed that may not have been verified by other researchers.

    In terms of content, we decided on six volumes, each representing a separate theme. The volumes include the following:

    • Volume 1:The Focus Group Guidebook

      This volume provides a general introduction to focus group research. The central topics are the appropriate reasons for using focus groups and what you can expect to accomplish with them. This book is intended to help those who are new to focus groups.

    • Volume 2:Planning Focus Groups

      This volume covers the wide range of practical tasks that need to get done in the course of a research project using focus groups. A major topic is making the basic decisions about the group's format, such as the size of the groups, their composition, and the total number of groups.

    • Volume 3:Developing Questions for Focus Groups

      This book describes a practical process for identifying powerful themes and then offers an easy-to-understand strategy for translating those themes into questions. This book helps make the process of developing good questions doable by outlining a process and offering lots of examples.

    • Volume 4:Moderating Focus Groups

      The book is an overview of critical skills needed by moderators, the various approaches that successful moderators use, and strategies for handling difficult situations. Rookie moderators will find this book to be an invaluable guide, and veteran moderators will discover tips and strategies for honing their skills.

    • Volume 5:Involving Community Members in Focus Groups

      This book is intended for those who want to teach others to conduct focus group interviews, particularly nonresearchers in communities. Volunteers can often gather and present results more effectively than professionals. A critical element is how the volunteers are trained and the manner in which they work together.

    • Volume 6:Analyzing and Reporting Focus Group Results

      Analysis of focus group data is different from analysis of data collected through other qualitative methodologies and this presents new challenges to researchers. This book offers an overview of important principles guiding focus group research and then suggests a systematic and verifiable analysis strategy.

    Early on we struggled with how these materials might be presented. In order to help you find your way around the series, we developed several strategies. First, we are providing an expanded table of contents and an overview of topics at the beginning of each chapter. These elements help the reader quickly grasp the overall picture and understand the relationship between specific sections. Second, we've attempted to make the indexes as useful as possible. Volumes 2–6 contain two indexes: an index for that volume and a series index to find your way around the entire kit of six books. Finally, we are using icons to identify materials of interest. These icons serve several purposes. Some icons help you locate other materials within the series that amplify a particular topic. Other icons expand on a particular point, share a story or tip, or provide background material not included in the text. We like the icons because they have allowed us to expand on certain points without interrupting the flow of the discussion. The icons have also allowed us to incorporate the wisdom of other focus group experts. We hope you find them beneficial. We've also included icons in the book to help you discover points of interest.

    The BACKGROUND icon identifies the bigger picture and places the current discussion into a broader context.
    The CAUTION icon highlights an area where you should be careful. These are especially intended to help beginners spot potholes or potential roadblocks.
    The CHECKLIST icon identifies a list of items that are good to think about; they may or may not be in a sequence.
    The EXAMPLE icon highlights stories and illustrations of general principles.
    The EXERCISE icon suggests something you could do to practice and improve your skills, or something you could suggest to others to help them improve their skills.
    The GO TO icon is a reference to a specific place in this book or one of the other volumes where you will find additional discussion of the topic.
    The KEY POINT icon identifies the most important things in each section. Readers should pay attention to these when skimming a section for the first time or reviewing it later.
    The TIP icon highlights a good practice to follow or an approach that has worked successfully for us.

    We hope you find this series helpful and interesting.

    RichardA.KruegerSt. Paul, Minnesota
    DavidL.MorganPortland, Oregon
  • References

    Andrews, A. (1977, July 11). How to buy productive focus group research. Advertising Age, pp. 146–148.
    Collier, T. (1996, October). The secret life of moderators. Paper presented at the meeting of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, Montreal, Canada. (Available from Trevor Collier & Co. Ltd., Qualitative Research Consultants, 88 Leuty Ave., Toronto, Ontario M4E 2R4, Canada)
    Debus, M. (1986). Handbook for excellence in focus group research. Washington, DC: Academy for Education Development.
    de Voggelaere, S. (1995, Fall). When the worst happens. QRCA Views, p. 25.
    Greenbaum, T.L. (1993). The handbook for focus group research. New York: Lexington.
    Henderson, L., and Perry, B.L. (1994, October). 150 more tips for new moderators. Paper presented at the meeting of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, Chicago, IL.
    Henderson, N. (1991, December). The art of moderating: A blend of basic skills and qualities. Quirk's Marketing Research Review, p. 39.
    Kelleher, J. (1982). Find out what your customers really want. Inc.4 (1), 88, 91.
    Kornfield, J. (1993). A path with heart. New York: Bantam.
    Langer, J. (1978, September 21). Clients: Check qualitative researcher's personal traits to get more. Qualitative researchers: Enter entire marketing process to give more. Marketing News, pp. 10–11.
    Langer, J. (1991, December). How to keep respondents from taking over focus groups. Quirk's Marketing Research Review, pp. 34–38.
    Mariampolski, H. (1991, December). Quirk's Marketing Research Review, p. 42.
    Perry, B.L. (1994, October). 150 more tips for new moderators. Paper presented at the meeting of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, Chicago, IL.

    Index to this Volume

    About the Author

    Richard A. Krueger is a professor and evaluation leader at the University of Minnesota. He teaches in the College of Education and Human Development and serves as an evaluation specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Over the past decade, he has taught hundreds of people to plan, conduct, and analyze focus group interviews. He loves stories. Perhaps that is what drew him to focus group interviews. Where else can one hear so many stories in such a short period of time?

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