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Focus Groups as a Research Method: Hear From a Variety of Voices, Explore New Ideas, Gain Clarity and Draw Conclusions

Troubleshooting Tips

Chances are, you will run into some obstacle at some point in the process of organizing, conducting and analyzing a focus group.  We won't be able to spell out all of the potential difficulties, but here are a few things that we have come across in our work that you might experience as well.

  • Problem: We are having a hard time recruiting participants, or not enough participants are showing up.

 This is a common dilemma in focus group organizing.  First, always be sure to emphasize that their opinions are valuable, and that the focus group is on a topic that is of significance to their life and their community. This might be easier if you get participatory and have recruitment help from community members themselves. Beyond that, the best way to get participants to attend is to provide some sort of incentive for their participation, as well as make their participation as easy as possible.  Can you provide free and easy parking?  If you are recruiting young women, can you provide day-care service during the group?  Is there any way to give them a small gift in return for their participation?  All of these will go a long way to helping recruit.

  • Problem: We have too many participants!  More people are showing up than we expected.

While having more people than expected might seem great, too big of a group can actually be a hindrance to your research.  Sometimes participants will bring friends or family with them and expect that they can all participate.  For most focus groups, you want to avoid having people in the group who know each other – that can affect the group dynamic, as they will be more likely to “team up” and might dominate the conversation.  Avoid the temptation of letting everybody into the focus group – more than 12 is too much!  You might want to invite the others to take part in a different group, or if there seems to be a lot of interest on a topic, hold a more open “community dialogue” in addition to your focus groups.

  • Problem: Some participants are not talking and/or others are dominating the conversation.

This is another frequent occurrence in focus groups, but can be dealt with by some skillfull planning and a skilled moderator.  For shy participants, the moderator should specifically seek out their input, as in: “Joseph, what do you think about that?”  Some of the creative and projective techniques discussed in the methods section can also be a good way to get more people involved.  As for dominating personalities, the moderator will have to do her best to respectfully deflect the conversation away from that person.  Saying things like, “We've heard what John has to say about this.  How about some of the other folks we have not heard from?” is an example of a way to move the conversation along.

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