A Comprehensive Guide to Data Collection Using Focus Group Approach

Qualitative researchers are often interested in determining the attributes, behaviour and opinions of individuals pertaining to certain issues. While there are several qualitative data collection techniques, a researcher commonly uses either participant observation (which occurs in groups) or open-ended interview (involving individuals). As group interviews, focus group occupies an intermediate position between other qualitative approaches. 

Focus group, a valuable tool for collecting qualitative data, is a group constituting of individuals with specific features who focus discussions on a certain topic or issue. 

Consider an example where the researcher wants to determine the crucial issues in a developing economy of Albania. To achieve this, the researcher utilised focus group and collected the necessary data from the participants. In the initial stage, the researcher selected participants on the basis of their knowledge on the issues faced. This was followed by dividing the participants into groups consisting of individuals of different gender and age group. The focus group helped the researcher to acquire information as well as solution for the issues faced by the people in Albania. 

Although focus group is regarded as a major qualitative data collection tool, it cannot be used in every circumstance. 

You can probably consider using this method if (1) you want to obtain detailed information about attributes, (2) gather additional information and (3) as a part of mixed method evaluation. 

  1. Acquiring in-depth information about behaviour, experience, attitudes -It is useful for collecting subjective perspectives from the participants. For instance, an evaluation of a meditation program included focus groups of high school students participated in the event. Data were collected on students’ perceptions about how meditation affected their school performance.
  2. Collect additional information – Like any other qualitative method, focus group provide interpretation of data. For example, teachers are trained to take up engaging classroom session. A focus group performed after several months will help you determine how the teachers are benefited from the training program and do they require any further training. 
  3. As a part of mixed method evaluation – Typically, mixed methods are used to enhance the validity of evaluation findings utilising various data collection techniques. Since in focus group data is collected from groups, it can be deployed with mixed method. 

To successfully collect data using this approach, one should pay attention to two significant factors; development of focus group guide and deciding the type & number of participants. 

  1. Development of focus group guide –  

The focus group guide serves as a road map to the instructor. It is nothing but a series a questions for the instructor/facilitator to use. When developing the guide, identify what kind of information you want to obtain, from whom you want to collect the information, and what are the benefits of the gathered information. Note that this guide can be used for each focus group. 

2. Select the type and number of participants for each focus group – 

Upon deciding the type of information to be acquired, finalise the number and type of participants required for each focus group. Ensure that each individual focus group consists of similar individuals. This is so because the number of focus groups depends on the number of different types of groups from which you want to collect the data. 

Next determine the type of participant. This depends on two concepts.

  • Sampling concerns: While choosing the sample, it is better to minimise the sample bias rather than accomplishing generalisability as focus groups are performed with purposive samples in which participants are obtained from a limited number of sources. 
  • Homogeneity & segmentation: Typically, segmentation is a decision made to control group composition to match selected categories of participants.

Segmented samples are linked with the importance of homogeneity in the focus groups composition. This homogeneity allows for free-flowing conversations among participants and facilitates assessment of differences in perspective between groups. 

Just like another data collection approach, focus group too has several characteristics such as 

  • It provides desired answers rather than insightful responses.
  • Investigates benefits of specific library collections
  • Investigates & identifies changes in behaviour of an individual
  • Adds human dimension to impersonal information
  • Suggests potential solutions to identified issues

A focus group is more useful when the results of the study are unpredictable and you require open-feedback rather than comparisons of outcomes as in quantified research. It also allows participants to express their ideas, feelings. Another major benefit of this approach is that it allows you to observe the dynamics among members of the focus group while discussing their opinions. 

So, if you are looking forward to obtaining a wider range and clarify information for your research, utilize focus groups rather than any other qualitative data collection method. 

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