1. Make an
Think of specific
questions it would be helpful to have answers for – questions like
"Is this really the most important way we can spend our budget?"
Or "Do people really want a straight path or a circular route?"
Or "Does anybody read this newsletter? Why/Why not?"
Do not be lured
into trying to get a little information about a lot of things. Determine
a single topic and ask questions directly related to it. Use open-ended
questions about perceptions of the physical, natural and social
environment or use focused questions about specific programs or
projects and even types of behavior that may affect project viability.
The focus group does not have to be limited to writing; creative
approaches work well, e.g., "draw a picture of the river in your
community." No matter what approach, keep the topic specific.
Running a focus
group may incur costs such as facilitation fees and travel, possible
compensation of volunteers, transcription materials and services,
meeting space rentals, refreshments for focus group participants,
and documentation and analysis of the results.
may cover some or all of these costs. Consider in the following
steps how to use volunteers or involve public agencies that do not
Take the tentative
agenda and questions and get a professional involved. A nonbiased
facilitator will be able to guide the interview design, advise on
ways to collect the information and ensure the flow of dialog during
Select a facilitator
whose background indicates experience with focus group techniques
and familiarity with the discussion topic. Possible sources of assistance
include marketing and advertising agencies, anthropology departments
of universities, and government agencies whose planning programs
require extensive public outreach.
- Find a meeting
place: It should be perceived as neutral and comfortable for all
participants and easily accessible. Appropriate meeting places
could include houses of worship and other community centers, conference
centers, and even homes. Two-way mirrors are optional.
- Pick a date
and time: Schedules should be tailored to meet the needs of participants;
e.g., evenings or weekends for those who work.
- Arrange for
light refreshments: If a budget is tight, this is an obvious place
for volunteer assistance.
- If able,
arrange for token gifts in recognition of the participants’ time
and help—ideally an item related to the topic being discussed.
5. Send out
select individuals from a broad-based mailing list or voters’ registration
list or specifically select individuals from a targeted interest
group or from referrals. Again, information obtained from focus
groups can guide or suggest possible future direction; it does not
represent public opinion.
participants, whether through the mail or by telephone, supply details
such as when, length of meeting, where it will be held (including
directions) and a brief statement of the purpose. Focus group participants
are never prepared in advance or coached to give specific answers—their
immediate gut reactions to the facilitators’ questions are much
number of participants is 8-12. To have that many, it may require
inviting many more people.
Before the Meeting
- Help the
facilitator prepare to introduce key opinion leaders or others
in the community who are there to offer a short background on
the project or topic and related issues. (After the background,
the individual should be asked to leave the room so as not to
influence or intimidate discussions.)
- Write out
any guidelines or expectations for behavior; e.g., not interrupting
others, not offering judgment, etc. This list should be posted
in the meeting room.
how the discussions will be recorded, transcribed, and analyzed.
The facilitator would most likely record and transcribe group
discussions but additional professional assistance might be needed
for the analysis.
7. The Big
Night (or Afternoon, or Morning)
and thank the participants and make necessary introductions.
- Explain how
the results will be used.
- Assure the
participants that the information gathered will respect the privacy
- Thank the
- Review the
ground rules including reminding any project members or those
who are involved and are there to observe that they are to remain
- Allow the
facilitator to facilitate.
- Thank the