How to conduct a focus group?
1. Plan your focus group
The size of your focus group will depend on your requirements, but six to ten participants generally allows you to capture a range of views, while exploring issues in detail. Consider how you can make it easy for participants to take part, including your choice of venue – how convenient and comfortable it is – and any incentives you might want to offer, such as travel expenses or refreshments.
It is best to run a group with two facilitators: one to run the session, and another to take notes. Facilitators must be skilled in managing group dynamics. They should also have knowledge about the topics being discussed, and an awareness of the profile of the participants.
Topic guides for facilitators
Prepare a structure for the discussion with a list of questions or topics. Think about how you might rephrase questions in the event they do not evoke responses or are not understood, and ways to handle any conflicts if they arise. Decide what to do if participants ask for advice or information. Generally, it’s best to acknowledge what participants have asked for and suggest speaking to them after the group has ended.
If conducting the focus group in person, ensure you have a comfortable and convenient venue that accommodates the accessibility requirements of the participants. Check you’ll have access to any required equipment; for example, flipcharts and recording devices. You may choose to use an online platform. This can make focus groups more convenient and people may share more honest opinions due to the anonymity. However, online focus groups tend to have a higher drop-out rate and the technological requirements may bias your results. Focus groups should not last longer than two hours. Allow time either side for facilitators to agree on the process and debrief.
Communicate with potential participants in advance
Write to the participants asking them to take part. Tell them about the broad topic area beforehand, but not the specific questions – to minimise the risk of bias and allow flexibility for the moderator to explore topics in greater detail while omitting others on the day. Give clear details about the date, time, venue, and any incentives offered.