Planning Focus Groups


David Morgan

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    I want to start by thanking my coauthor, Alice Scannell, who wrote the essential first drafts for Chapters 3 and 4. Alice also conducted several interviews with colleagues who helped expand our understanding of how people use focus groups, including Bruce Bayley, of the Center for Outcomes Rsearch and Education at Providence Medical Center; Adam Davis, of Davis and Hibbitts Incorporated; and Laura Neidhart, of Bardsley and Neidhart. Bruce provided insights into the concerns of those who contract with others for focus groups. Laura shared her knowledge of various aspects of the focus group industry, including the role that professional focus group facilities play. And Adam helped us understand the issues that professional focus group researchers encounter when working for others.

    I would also like to acknowledge the numerous students and colleagues whose focus group projects I have been a part of. Some of what is here is indeed my own hard-won experience about how to plan for effective focus groups. I have learned at least as much, however, by sharing in the wide range of uses that my students and colleagues have found for focus groups.

    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 your 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 I, 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, the total number of groups, and so forth.

    • 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 non-researchers in communities. Volunteers can often gather and present results more effectively than professionals. A critical element is how the volunteers are prepared 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 help you 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 GOTO 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 something that has successfully worked for us.

    We hope you find this series helpful and interesting.

    Richard A.KruegerSt. Paul, Minnesota
    David L.MorganPortland, Oregon
  • References

    Gamson, W (1992). Talking politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
    Kitzinger, J. (1994). The methodology of focus groups: The importance of interaction between research participants. Sociology of Health and Illness, 16, 103–121.
    Sasson, T. (1995). Crime talk. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

    Index to the Focus Group Kit

    The letter preceding the page number refers to the volume, according to the following key:

    • G Volume 1: The Focus Group Guidebook
    • P Volume 2: Planning Focus Groups
    • Q Volume 3: Developing Questions for Focus Groups
    • M Volume 4: Moderating Focus Groups
    • I Volume 5: Involving Community Members in Focus Groups
    • A Volume 6: Analyzing and Reporting Focus Group Results
    • Analysis, resources for, G69–71
    • Analysis advice for first-timers, A97–102
    • Analysis and report writing, I76–78
    • Analysis ingredients, A9–18, A19–30
    • Analysis levels, A27
    • Analysis process, A41–52, G69–71
    • Analysis questions, A61–78
    • Analysis strategies used, A79–96
    • Assistant moderator:
    • role, M70–73
    • tips on selecting, M69–70
    • Collaborative focus groups, I15–19
    • Collaborative process, I22–24
    • Computer analysis, A24–26, A89–94
    • Costs of focus groups, 5–6, G65–73
    • Ethical issues regarding focus groups:
    • informed consent, G86–87
    • privacy, G87–96
    • privacy for participants, G90–94
    • privacy for sponsors, G89–90, G95–96
    • risks and, G85–87
    • setting boundaries, G93–94
    • stressful topics, G91–94
    • Focus groups:
    • appropriate uses of, G57–60
    • elements of, G29–35
    • inappropriate uses of, G60–63
    • uses of, G9–15, G17–27, G55–56
    • Follow-up questions, Q45–48
    • Generalizing, A70
    • Graduate student advice, A131–134
    • Group composition, P55–69
    • Group number, P77–83
    • Group size, P71–76
    • Group stages, I20–21
    • History of focus groups, G37–43
    • Informed consent, G86–87
    • Introducing focus groups, G1–7, I58–60
    • Location of focus groups, P121–129
    • Marketing, use of focus groups in, G39–40
    • Microphone, A54
    • Moderating:
    • preparation for, M9–14
    • principles, M3–8
    • problems, M49–56
    • rating sheets, M95–100
    • resources for, G68–69
    • selecting moderator, M37–40
    • skills, M15–35, M101–104
    • training for, I64–66
    • See also
      • Participant problems Moderator:
    • personal qualities of, M41–44
    • roles, M45–48 Note-taking. See
      • Recording
    • Oral reports. See
      • Reporting
    • Oral summary, I73–75
    • Participants:
    • locating, I49–52
    • problems with, M57–68
    • Personnel and budgeting, P23–40
    • Pilot testing, Q57–60
    • Planning, resources needed for, G66–67
    • Planning checklist, P131–132
    • Planning principles P3–7
    • Probes, Q45–48
    • Professional researchers, I10
    • Questions:
    • campaign, Q79–80
    • categories, Q21–30
    • changing questions, Q53, 55–56
    • choosing among alternatives, Q69
    • collage, Q73
    • conceptual mapping, Q69–70
    • create analogy, Q74
    • create families, Q75
    • debate, Q81
    • developing questions, I61
    • drawing pictures, Q73–74
    • fantasy and daydreams, Q76–77
    • listing questions, Q64
    • parallel and similar questions, Q54–55
    • personification, Q75–76
    • phrasing, Q31–35
    • picture sort, Q70
    • pilot testing, I62–63
    • principles, Q3–6
    • rating questions, Q64–68
    • role playing, Q80
    • sentence completion, Q72
    • sequence for development, Q13–16
    • sequencing, Q37–43
    • Rapid focus group, M85–94
    • Recording:
    • audiotaping, M81–83, A54
    • flip charts, M80–81, A56
    • note taking, M76–80, I67–69
    • videotaping, M83, A54
    • Recruiting participants, G67–68, I53–57, P85–120
    • Registration, M15–19
    • Reporting:
    • oral, I79–81, A121–128
    • principles of, A103–107
    • resources for, G69–71
    • written, A109–120
    • Sampling, random, A71
    • Screening, P94–95
    • Sponsors, focus groups and, G76–78
    • Structure, degree of, P43–53
    • Systematic analysis, A10
    • Teaching others to moderate:
    • questions and answers, M105–108
    • Time constraints, Q49–50
    • Timelines, P9–22
    • Topic guide versus question route,
    • Q9–12
    • Training plan, I33–47
    • Training schedules, I27–30
    • Transcribing, I70–72
    • Transcription machines, A40
    • Unplanned questions, Q47–48
    • Validity, A68–69
    • Verifiable analysis, A11
    • Volunteer continuum, I5
    • Volunteer researchers, I11, I19
    • Volunteers, how to involve, I15

    About the Author

    David L. Morgan received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan and did postdoctoral work at Indiana University. He is currently a professor in the Institute on Aging at Portland State University's College of Urban and Public Affairs. In addition to his continuing work with focus groups, he has a wide-ranging interest in research methods, including designs that combine qualitative and quantitative methods. Within gerontology, his research interests center on the aging of the baby boomers—a topic that should keep him busy until his own retirement!

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