The focus group method is classified as a secondary method of data collection. After completing the journals participants will attend a focus group discussion to explore what they learnt and felt for themselves through the process, and to see what they identified as being the most effective form of learning. Litosseliti (2003) offers that focus groups are extensively used in advertising, market research, political campaigning, public policy and communication research. They recently have become more prevalent in education as well as linguistics, health research and feminist research (Litosseliti, 2003). Focus groups (Morgan, 1988; Krueger, 1988) are useful for:
- Orientation to a particular field of focus;
- Developing themes, topic, and schedules for subsequent interviews and/or questionnaires;
- Generating hypotheses that derive from the insights and data from the group;
- Generating and evaluating data from different sub-groups of a population;
- Gathering feedback from previous studies.
The purpose of a focus group is to focus discussion of a particular issue – structured or unstructured and gain multiple views and attitudes in relation to the issue (Litosseliti, 2003). These interviews may be conducted several times with different individuals so that the researcher can identify trends in the perceptions and opinions expressed, which are revealed through careful, systematic analysis (Krueger, 1988). There is a danger that some participants’ voices will be silenced during the focus group, either due to their own choice or as a result of a dominant participant within the group. These silent voices can be brought out by skilled moderation by the researcher, particularly by creating an open friendly and non-threatening environment and encouraging participants to be forthcoming (Litosseliti, 2003). AsJohnson & Christensen (2008) observe ensuring that everyone has their say is one of the key parts to managing a focus group. With the use of external stimulus and skilled questioning the focus group facilitator can work to ensure that all participants’ opinions and views are heard (Gilham, 2008).
Focus groups are undoubtedly valuable when in-depth information is needed (Mertens, 2005). They have a valuable dynamic that is quite different from a solo interview, which often provides rich and profound insights and observations from the participants (O’Toole & Beckett, 2010). There is also, once again, a danger of bias with focus groups. However, bias may be consistent if one facilitator is used and they are careful of language and try not to indicate their strength of view (Litosseliti, 2003).
Unlike interviewing, discussed above, focus groups operate more successful if they are composed of relative strangers rather than friends, unless friendship, of course, is an important criterion for the focus (e.g. that the group will discuss something that is usually only discussed amongst friends). Otherwise, the interview will be interfered with since my friends will know my perspective on assessment to some degree.
Strengths and weaknesses
The advantages of focus-group interviews are that this method is socially oriented, studying participants in an atmosphere more natural than artificial experimental circumstances and more relaxed than a one-to-one interview. When combined with participant observation, focus groups are especially useful for gaining access, focusing site selection and sampling, and even for checking tentative conclusions (Morgan, 1997).
Their contrived nature is both their strength and their weakness too: they are unnatural settings yet they are very focused on a particular issue and, therefore, will yield insights that might not otherwise have been available in a straightforward inter- view; they are economical on time, producing a large amount of data in a short period of time, but they tend to produce fewer data than interviews with the same number of individuals on a one-to-one basis (ibid.: 19).
The advantages of Focused Group Interview are many. Focused Group Interview also offers an opportunity for direct contact between the interviewer and the people to be interviewed. The group interview design format also encourages direct contact between the interviewer and respondents. Focused Group Interview consumes less effort and time for preparation. They also provide speedy research result and enable researcher to increase sample size as the interview goes on
The focus groups have several weaknesses. First and foremost is the issue of power dynamics in the focus-group set- ting. Should the researcher choose to use this method she should be exquisitely aware of power dynamics and be able to facilitate well— these are crucial skills. The weaknesses of focused group interview also include the fact that the researcher has less control over the interview, unlike individual interview. It has been observed that the data obtained by group interview are more difficult to analyze because context is essential to understanding the participants’ comments; the method requires the use of special room arrangements and highly trained observer moderators; the groups can vary a great deal and can be hard to assemble, and logistical problems may arise from the need to manage a conversation while getting good quality data.
It has also been found that groups can be difficult to assemble for a focused interview while it can be difficult to see that interview discussion is conducted in an environment that is conducive for conversation. In order to curb some of these problems, I will ensure that the participants in the group discussions are not friends so that unmanipulated information is gotten.