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Focus Groups

Focus Groups

Focus groups are a qualitative research method which involve gathering a group of participants, typically ranging from around 5-8 people in size, to generate discussion and garner their perspectives on a specific issue.

Good practice indicates there should be at least one moderator facilitating the discussion and then ideally at least one note-taker within the room during the focus group session. The moderator’s role is primarily to ensure the discussion remains relevant to the topic and to encourage equity of participation from those taking part and deescalating any potential tensions within the group. The moderator can also use prompts and follow-up questions to encourage further elaboration of opinion (Puchta and Potter, 2003). Focus groups typically last between 60-120 minutes, however there are exceptions to this according to the research context.

Benefits of the focus group method include the opportunity to take account of both the dialogue and the interactions between the group through analysis; the interactive nature of this dialogue provides an important insight into various contrasting viewpoints and expose 'every day talk in action' (Hennink and Leavy, 2014; Puchta and Potter, 2003). It can be a useful method for when working with participants where the presence of others will foster ease and comfort. It is also argued that the social presence of others can be a useful way to moderate false or exaggerated opinions and consequently, a more balanced opinion will be generated (Hennink and Leavy, 2014). Focus groups can also be used as an opportunity for people to share their views with each other and thus be an empowering and productive experience (Puchta and Potter, 2003).

As with all research methods, there are several ethical considerations that arise when using focus groups. An example of this is ensuring participants feel their contributions are equally valid and that no one individual dominates the conversation. Confidentiality and anonymity can also present challenges due to “the researcher’s limited control over what participants may subsequently communicate outside the group” (Sim and Waterfield, 2019). It is therefore important to think about the sensitivity of topics being discussed and if this is an appropriate method. It is crucial to choose an inclusive environment for the focus group to be conducted; the space chosen should ensure all participants feel equally comfortable expressing opinion (Puchta and Potter, 2003). The selection of participants taking part alongside one another should also be carefully considered and justified, to ensure participants are protected when sharing their opinions.

Detailed descriptions of the focus group method are widely available (Barbour and Morgan, 2017, Carey and Asbury, 2016). An example of how focus group research can support co-production within multidisciplinary projects can be found here.

Spotlight Interview

Beth Robertson, PhD Student, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

People

Prof. Anoop Nayak, Professor of Social and Cultural Geography

Dr Areti Galani , Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultural Heritage and Degree Programme Director

Beth Robertson, PhD Student, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Dr Bruce Davenport, Research Associate, School of Arts and Cultures

Dr Clifton Evers, Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies

Dr Gopal Iyer, Research Associate, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

Prof. Guy Austin, Professor of French Studies

Dr Helen Burns, Senior Research Associate and Research Excellence Fellow, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

Holly Nelson, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology Alumni

Prof. Peter Hopkins, Professor of Social Geography

Dr Robin Finlay, Research Associate, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Courses

HSC8001: Fundamentals of Research

References

  • Barbour, R., and Morgan, D., (2017). A New Era in Focus Group Research: Challenges, Innovation and Practice. London: Springer. Carey, M., and Asbury, J., eds. (2016). Focus group research. London: Routledge. 2nd ed.
  • Hennink, M. M and Leavy, P., (2014). Focus Group Discussions, Cary: Oxford University Press, Incorporated.
  • Puchta, C., and Potter J., (2004). Focus Group Practice. London: SAGE.
  • Sim, J., and Waterfield, J., (2019). Focus group methodology: some ethical challenges. Quality & Quantity, 53, pp.3003-3022.

Page edited by Beth Robertson, PhD Student, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology.

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences