|Manual for the Use of Focus Groups (Methods for Social Research in Disease) (International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries - INFDC, 1993, 97 pages)|
|Part II: Staff training for focus group discussions|
As with any programme, planning is essential to the success of a research programme using focus groups. It is the same with training your staff. Planning is important to make sure the whole thing runs smoothly and everything is included, but for this particular task there is another important reason for careful planning.
As this method may be new to both you, the trainer and the project staff, it can be very easy to give the impression of confusion if you are not well prepared. Confidence of the project team in you, the team's ability to perform the task, and in the end, the method, depends on how organised you are.
How involved your staff will be in planning the project, collecting the information and analysing the results will depend on the decisions you make according to what staff you have available. If the staff are highly involved in all aspects of the project, then they should go through the team leader training sessions before this section. Part II of this manual is mainly directed to field staff who will be moderating and observing the focus groups and is concerned with practical aspects of conducting a focus group, along with the skills required to do so.
This section provides all the main points that need to be covered while training your field staff. It is not intended to be used as a series of lecture notes, but simply as a guide to the trainer about the content of the training course. Different communities respond better with different types of learning styles and it will be up to you to select the most appropriate learning method for your staff.
Try to be as imaginative as you can with the training, and include as much practice of the new skills as possible. Exercises can be made that help the staff practice single skills (such as listening) with each other or family and friends. Make sure that you set up some practice focus group sessions for the staff before you pre-test in the field setting. There are many new skills for them to learn and feel confident about and you should expect that most field staff will feel rather nervous before they have had experience.
Do not send your staff out into the field before they have had time to feel a little more comfortable with the method.
If you are training staff who have had no experience in research, no tertiary education, or have only been involved in clinical aspects of health, then you will need to be rather sensitive to their learning needs. These ideas and approaches to improving programmes may be very new to them and they may feel insecure and unsure of their ability to perform the tasks required. The best way to deal with this very common problem is to keep all training sessions as simple as possible. Never use difficult language, as this is the quickest way to lose the interest of the trainees. Difficult language also makes people feel inferior and less able to carry out the tasks. In addition, regular practice will help to build confidence in their ability. Give staff regular encouragement and always remind them they are not expected to have all the skills perfected immediately.
Sometimes the staff who will be involved in a research project using focus groups will normally have a clinical role in your department, and may need you to spend some extra time with them carefully going through the benefits of doing this type of research. If they are rushed through a training programme for a task they do not believe is of much benefit, they certainly will not try hard to overcome any difficulties they may have. In addition, if health professionals are insecure and feel threatened, they may jeopardise the project by open rejection of the method.
If you have access to anyone with training experience, then either recruit them into the project or consult them for advice on local learning styles.
It is very important to evaluate the training sessions. If there are problems in learning the new skills, you want to discover those before you get into the field setting. It is outside the scope of this manual to discuss evaluation techniques, but even if you have had no experience in evaluation of educational sessions, it is wise to set up checks throughout the training programme. It is not necessary to have great skills in education programmes and their evaluation to be successful with the course. You can use written or spoken tests, practice sessions, or just informal talks with the staff.
Some of the material included below repeats material discussed in Part I, but it is included here to stress the importance of these areas in field staff training.