Public Participation Guide: Focus Groups
A focus group is a small group discussion with professional leadership. Focus groups are used to find out what issues are of most concern for a community or group when little or no information is available. Discovering these issues can help determine preferred options for addressing the issues or what concerns would prevent a proposal from going ahead. The focus group may also be undertaken to discover preliminary issues that are of concern in a group or community, and on which to base further research or consultation. Focus groups should deliver detailed knowledge of the issues that concern a specific demographic or community.
- Assists in developing a preliminary concept of the issues of concern, from which a wider community survey may be undertaken
- Helps to make limited generalizations based on the information generated by the focus group
- Identifies the reasons behind people’s likes/dislikes
- Produces ideas that would not emerge from surveys/questionnaires, because the focus group provides opportunities for a wider range of comments
- Allows for more open discussion and transparency from groups that may have experienced discrimination in the past
Challenges to Consider
- Such small groups may not be representative of the community response to an issue, they require careful selection to be a representative sample (similar age range, status, etc)
- People must be able to operate within their comfort zones--some people may feel ill-at-ease about being open with their opinions in an unfamiliar group setting
- Requires skilled facilitation
Principles for Successful Planning
- Carefully select 8-15 individuals to discuss and give opinions on a single topic.
- Participants can be selected in two ways: random selection is used to ensure representation of all segments of society; non-random selection helps elicit a particular position or point of view
- Develop agenda with five or six major questions at most
- Provide background material as appropriate, or develop minimal presentation of material to set context and introduce the subject
- Book venue and arrange catering if meeting goes across a meal time
- Hire a facilitator
- Brief participants and the facilitator on the aims and objectives of the session
- Establish ground rules: keep focused, maintain momentum, and get closure on each question before moving on to the next
- Record data gathered from focus group discussion
- De-brief the session with the participants and the facilitator
- Compile a report of proceedings for the organizers, and offer a copy to the participants
- Staff are needed to recruit participants, record and analyze the proceedings, and develop a report
- Experienced focus group facilitator is essential
- Interpreter, if necessary
- Neutral comfortable space for the sessions
- Means to record the information – possibly an audio recorder, video recorder, or flip charts
- Can be planned fairly quickly, although sufficient time is needed to select the participants, reserve space for the focus group sessions, and develop thoughtful and well-phrased questions.
- Ideally time should be set aside to pilot test the questions
- A single focus group session typically last 2-4 hours.
- Typically 8 – 15 participants per focus group session.
- Can be implemented without great expense.
- The most expensive feature is focus group facilitators.
Most relevant participation levels:
- Involve, Collaborate
Explore the full Public Participation Guide.
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