Cover Image
close this bookManual for the Use of Focus Groups (Methods for Social Research in Disease) (International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries - INFDC, 1993, 97 pages)
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentPreface
View the documentIntroduction
close this folderPart I: Team leader focus group training
View the documentSection 1: Deciding to use focus group training
View the documentSection 2: Designing the study
View the documentSection 3: Selecting and training staff
View the documentSection 4: Selecting the study participants
View the documentSection 5: Developing the question line
View the documentSection 6: Managing the information you collect
View the documentSection 7: Analysis of the results
close this folderPart II: Staff training for focus group discussions
View the documentSection 1: Introduction
View the documentSection 2: Introduction to focus groups
View the documentSection 3: Overview of skills training session
View the documentSection 4: Roles of the team
View the documentSection 5: Personal characteristics of the moderator
View the documentSection 6: Preparation for each focus group discussion
View the documentSection 7: Entering the community and activities for the reception of participants
View the documentSection 8: Beginning the focus group discussion
View the documentSection 9: Moderator skills: Asking questions
View the documentSection 10: Encouraging and controlling the discussion
View the documentSection 11: Moderator and observer skills: Observing non-verbal messages
View the documentSection 12: Observer skills: Recording the session
View the documentSection 13: Closing the discussion and meeting
View the documentSection 14: The debrief
View the documentReferences
View the documentThe focus group manual

Section 2: Introduction to focus groups

2.1 Why are we using focus group discussions?

What are focus groups?

Focus groups are group discussions in which about eight people are gathered together to discuss a topic of interest. The discussion is guided by a group leader (called a moderator) who asks questions and tries to help the group have a natural and free conversation with each other.

Focus groups are aimed at encouraging participants to talk with each other, rather than answer questions directly to the moderator. The group interaction of focus groups is important because it gives us some understanding of how the people are thinking about the topic.

The questions asked of the group are usually "focused". By this we mean that they focus on one or two main topics, to get a really detailed idea about how the people think about the area of interest. They are also focused because participants of any focus group usually share common characteristics, such as age, sex, educational background, religion, or something directly related to the topic being studied. This encourages the group to speak freely.

Focus groups can find out about people's feelings, attitudes and opinions about a topic of interest. They examine only one or two topics in great detail, in an effort to really understand why people think or behave the way they do.

How can focus groups be used in health programmes?

Focus groups can be used in many different ways in health programmes. They can explore a new area of interest about which little is known, or they can establish what the community thinks about a new project plan and check whether the plan is appropriate for the community. Focus group discussions can solve project problems. For example, if a health education project did not appear to be changing the behaviour of the community, then focus groups can explore the reasons why. Focus groups can also be used when you are evaluating a project. They can give you the community's ideas about how useful the project is. They are also used to address staff problems, by providing understanding about programme problems from the point of view of the staff themselves.

What information will we be collecting?


In this section it is worthwhile to provide a very clear description of the project. You can explain what the problems are that you are trying to solve. You will need to go through in some detail your objectives and the list of information you require. If your objectives have been written in complicated language, then it is advisable either to simplify them, or present them to the staff in a way that will not make them feel that the project is difficult for them to manage. This, of course, will depend on the language skills and educational background of the staff.

How will we use the data from Focus Group Discussions?


Here you will need to be clear about how you will use focus group results. To make this a little clearer, read the example list below of how you might want to use the information:

· to get ideas about what the community sees as important issues to the topic so that good questionnaires can be written for a larger study in the population;

· to discover local words related to the topic;

· to have additional information about the topic to be used with results from other studies;

· to help the team become more familiar with the area and the communities who live there;

· to assist decision makers with future plans to benefit the community.

2.2 Conducting the Focus Group Research Project


The following section gives you a very brief outline of the whole process of conducting the project. It starts with the planning of the project and goes through all its aspects, including managing the results of the focus group discussions.

Focus group pre-planning


Your sharing of the detail in this section will depend upon what involvement the staff will have in project planning. You may need to provide as much detail as that in Part I of this manual, or alternatively you may just need to describe the main steps that were performed to plan the project.

Conducting the focus groups


· pre-arrange the focus groups by visiting the site and talking to the local leaders and participants, and selecting the place where the focus groups will be held;

· check all equipment before leaving for the field;

· arrive at the site early to arrange seating and equipment.


· receive participants;

· open the meeting;

· conduct the session;

· close the session.


· immediately debrief in the field;

· extend debrief at home office;

· expand field notes and check accuracy.

Management of the Results


It is necessary to provide an explanation of how you will manage the information. This simply means describing to the staff what decisions have been made concerning how you record the sessions, how you will store the information, and how you intend to analyse the information. Again, the detail you provide to the staff will depend on their involvement with these aspects of the project. However, it is important to explain to the staff the entire project, even if they are only involved in one aspect, such as moderating.