How to Conduct a Focus Group Discussion

by Serena Cassidy; Updated September 26, 2017
...

Focus group discussions are an effective way to gather input on a selected topic, feedback on the launch of a new program and possible impacts on stakeholders. During a focus group, discussion information is shared with a group of six to 10 participants to solicit their feedback through focused questions. Focus groups are usually led by a third-party facilitator, whose role is to develop questions based on the session goals and ensure that responses are recorded. A focus group session usually lasts from 45 to 90 minutes and involves participants with similar interests or backgrounds.

Items you will need

  • Facilitator
  • Co-facilitator or note-taker
  • Location
  • Refreshments and catering
  • Record-keeping method (tape recorder, video or flip charts)
  • Ground rules for discussion
  • Consent forms
  • Honorarium or gift-certificate or stipend
  • Focus group report
Step 1

Identify the purpose and goals of your focus group discussion. Develop a list of participants to invite, and devise a method for selection. Example selection methods include nomination, random selection, using existing groups of stakeholders, position-based invitation, and a selection of volunteers. Determine whether you need a co-facilitator or note-taker for the discussions, how many sessions you will hold, how you will record participant feedback, and whether you will provide compensation to participants for attendance.

Step 2

Develop focus group discussion questions. Design five to 12 main questions which capture the core information and feedback desired regarding your project or initiative. The questions must be focused, short and concise; clearly worded, open-ended and capture how and why the project will impact participants.

Focus group questions about the discussion topic can include introductory engagement questions, exploratory questions regarding participant opinions, and exit questions regarding final participant comments.

Step 3

Prepare for the session. Arrange the focus group discussion details, including agenda, dates, times, location and catering. Create an agenda. Allot time for each focus group discussion and refreshment breaks or lunch, if applicable. Call each invited participant to confirm her attendance. Send confirmation of the date and time of the session to each participant.

Step 4

Facilitate the session. Explain your role and the discussion ground rules. Ensure that participants fill out consent forms. Review the agenda and questions for discussion. Allow the group time to reflect on the questions and provide initial reactions to the discussion topic before continuing with more targeted questions. Summarize group responses to each question. End the session by providing participants with an overview of how the information will be used. Thank participants for their feedback. Provide compensation to participants for their time.

Step 5

Conduct a post-session wrap up. Schedule a debrief session after the focus group discussions have ended. Review and transcribe your notes using key words, verbatim ideas or themed comments. Analyze the data and prepare a report of your findings, noting your observations and recommendations.

Tips

  • Schedule the focus group to start 15 to 30 minutes before the actual session begins.

    Offer an incentive for participation such as an honorarium, stipend or gift certificate.

Warnings

  • Focus Group discussions must be conducted in an unbiased manner. Otherwise, results may not accurately reflect the responses of participants.

About the Author

Serena Cassidy has written reports, policies, and research documents since 2000 on community development and government policy issues, and she has been featured in "CIO Canada." She has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Saint Mary's University and a Master of Public Administration from Dalhousie University. She currently works as a government policy analyst.

Photo Credits