Focus groups

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"Capitalise on the communication and interaction among group participants"

Introduction

Focus groups involve encouraging a group of participants with specific interests or characteristics to draw upon their attitudes, expectations, and feelings on a particular topic or issue.

One of the key features of the method is to capitalise on the communication and interaction among group participants in order to generate qualitative data.

Focus groups are often used as a preliminary method for identifying emerging themes or generating hypotheses to be further explored with other methods; however they are also sometimes used after other methods to explore preliminary findings which emerge from other types of data collection.

Focus groups enable participants to question each others' opinions; this allows an opportunity to observe the development or re-evaluation of subjective understandings which are often challenged or modified in the process of dynamic group interaction. Moreover, this method enables the researcher to observe other forms of inter-personal communication such as jokes or disagreements.

Focus groups can offer a supportive environment for discussion which some people find less inhibiting than a one-to-one interview. Consequently focus groups can actually be a useful and empowering way to discuss sensitive subjects or enabling an expression of opinions which are shared by group members but which deviate from normative cultural opinions.

However it is important to note that some people feel they need to conform to group opinions and pressures so their opinions risk being constrained.

It is also important to be aware of power dynamics in the group and the hierarchical positioning of participants when they are in the context of the group. All participants should feel confident discussing issues, so it is important that the moderator creates and maintains a secure environment for each member of the group.

Focus groups can be an effective way of collecting data from several people simultaneously, and they enable the researcher to gain a large amount of information in a short period of time.

However, they have some limitations in that they are a relatively expensive method to organise. They also require a skilled moderator to lead them and a skilled researcher to analyse the resulting data, which can be particularly complex due to the intricate interactions among respondents.

Example

Study Number: SN 5668
Study Title: Framing of Terrorist Threats in United States and Russian Elections, 2003-2004.
Principal Investigator(s): Oates, S.
Date of Fieldwork: March 2004 - December 2004
Abstract: This project examined the framing of terrorist threats in Russian elections (2003 Duma and 2004 presidential) and the United States (US) general presidential election in 2004. The project examined coverage of the nightly news during the campaigns, messages from political parties and candidates as well as audience reaction in focus groups in each country.

Citation: Oates, S., Framing of Terrorist Threats in United States and Russian Elections, 2003-2004 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], September 2007. SN: 5668.

 

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