The focus groups are, of course, groups. Most surveys, though, cover one person at a time. One advantage of focus groups is depth and complexity of response, as mentioned before. And group members can often stimulate new thoughts for each other, which might not have otherwise occurred.
For example , focus groups usually take more time per respondent than individual surveys -- because the group has to be recruited, and because the group itself takes time. Some group members might feel hesitant about speaking openly. And the focus group leader may sometimes need to be paid. Of course, it's also possible to combine the advantages of both methods, and interview one person at a time in depth. But this can be time-consuming, and take more resources than you have on hand. It is used to learn more about opinions on a designated topic, and then to guide future action.
The group's composition and the group discussion should be carefully planned to create a nonthreatening environment, so that participants feel free to talk openly and give honest opinions. Since participants are actively encouraged to not only express their own opinions, but also respond to other members and questions posed by the leader, focus groups offer a depth, nuance, and variety to the discussion that would not be available through surveys.
Additionally, because focus groups are structured and directed, but also expressive, they can yield a lot of information in a relatively short time.
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This is not a casual matter: Your leader will determine the success of your group. What kind of leader do you want? Probably someone who:. Take a careful look around. Perhaps you can find the right leader within your own organization. It's possible you can do the job yourself but don't overestimate [or underestimate] your own abilities. Depending on the situation, you might consider looking for someone outside your organization, someone that specializes in facilitating these kinds of groups.
A small but important point, often neglected. You want to make sure people's ideas don't get lost. Someone should be writing down what is said, in the same way as taking minutes at a meeting.
Arrange for this in advance. Alternatively, you can audio-record, with the group's permission. This will take more time -- to transcribe the audio, and interpret the transcription-- but you will have a more complete, accurate, and permanent record. Ideally, those invited should be a representative sample of those whose opinions you are concerned about. Suppose you're concerned about the opinions of public housing tenants.
You would then want to spread your invitations across the different public housing facilities in your community -- not just the best, or the worst, or the most vocal. Or suppose you are concerned about the opinions of Main Street shopkeepers. Get a complete list. Select a representative group, for example by size, type, or whether they have local or outside ownership.
You probably want to hear from all kinds of businesses; so make sure you do. You could even pull the names out of a hat.
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This approaches a "random sample. That is, should you offer an incentive for people to participate? Maybe not. In that case, why should people come? What's in it for them? Possibly people will come just because they want to help. Or because they think they will meet other interesting people, or learn something, or just have fun. Maybe the novelty of the experience itself will be a motivator. And maybe all these reasons are true. Or at least people believe them.
But maybe those reasons aren't enough, and some other incentive is called for. Money is one; sometimes focus group members get paid, even a small amount. Focus group leaders may get paid, too.
If you can afford this, consider it. If you can't, then think about other possible incentives: food and drink more than chips and soda? What will do the job? Go in prepared. This will serve as your guide. Below are some examples of general questions. These apply largely to groups discussing a current program or service, but they can be adjusted for planned programs, as well as for groups dealing with other concerns. The precise language and order of presentation will depend on your topic and group, but some of these questions may be adapted to your own needs.
A common sequence of events for many focus groups goes something like this: The leader usually takes responsibility for carrying them out. Reminder 1: Be sure to record. If the group is not being audio-recorded, someone should be writing the key points down.
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Reminder 2 : Of course, the leader's job is to elicit opinion, and not judge it. All opinions should be respected. If you have audio-recorded, make a transcript. If not, make a written summary from the group notes. But in any case, look closely at the information you have collected. In some cases, you can devise and use a coding system to "score" the data and count the number of times a particular theme is expressed.
Experience helps here. But whether you do this or not, try to have more than one person review the results independently. Because even the best of us have our biases. Then come together to compare your interpretations and conclusions. They gave you their time. The least you can do is to give them some feedback -- it's an obligation that you have.
This can be done by mail, phone, or email if you'd like.
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And note : Perhaps members have now become more interested in the issue, and would like to get more involved. Consider offering them an opportunity to do so. A focus group, indirectly, can be a recruiting tool.