About This Series
Publication Date: January 2010
Step 3: Collect New Data
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Step 3: Collect New Data

Focus Groups

A focus group is similar to an interview but involves talking to a group of people who have direct experience or information to share on a given topic. Focus group questions should guide the group’s discussion.

A focus group requires a lot of planning. This checklist can help you with the planning process:

check mark icon Determine the participants you will need (e.g., number, type) and generate a contact list.
check mark icon Secure a location for the meeting. Visit the site to make sure it is accessible and comfortable.
check mark icon Send an invitation letter to prospective participants that explains the purpose of the focus group, the types of questions that will be asked, that participation is voluntary, and that any information participants give will be kept confidential. Provide contact information in case the letter’s recipients have questions.
check mark icon Be sure to invite people with diverse perspectives. However, if you are aware of individuals who may have strong opinions and tend to dominate group discussions, you may want to interview them separately. It is important to ensure that the focus group itself is a comfortable environment in which people can share their different points of view.
check mark icon Hire a skilled facilitator. Select someone who has experience conducting focus groups with diverse participants and who has succeeded with previous groups in making sure the goals of the focus group are met. Meet with the facilitator beforehand to review the goals of the focus group and the focus group guide. If necessary, also hire an interpreter.
check mark icon Develop the focus group guide (e.g., script, questions). Seek feedback from the facilitator, who will need to be familiar with the guide. Develop a form to collect basic demographic information (e.g., gender, age, race).
check mark icon Identify and hire a skilled note taker for the day of the meeting.
check mark icon Send a reminder to participants. If possible, collect informed consent statements prior to the meeting. For minors (younger than age 18), secure informed assent from the minor and informed consent from a parent or guardian.
check mark icon A few days before the meeting, visit the site to make sure you have all the resources you need (e.g., projector, boards, chairs, tables). At this time, you may want to determine the types of refreshments to be served.
check mark icon On the meeting day, arrive early to set up the room to foster a positive environment.
check mark icon If you have not already obtained the appropriate forms from participants, ask them to complete the demographic information and the informed consent forms.
check mark icon Conduct your focus group meeting.
check mark icon After the discussion, give participants information about who to contact if they have more to say. Thank everyone for contributing.
check mark icon Shortly after the meeting, analyze the notes to determine if any followup is necessary.

The questions asked during the focus group should be broad enough to foster a discussion, yet structured enough to keep the discussion focused on the information you need. Using a skilled facilitator will help you to get the data you need from the meeting.

Sample focus group materials can be found in appendix B (PDF 101 KB).