Cover Image
close this bookA Manual for the Use of Focus Groups (Methods for Social Research in Disease) (International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries - INFDC, 1993, 97 pages)
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

Section 7: Entering the community and activities for the reception of participants

7.1 Entering the community to contact participants

This may be done a day or even a week before the focus group. However, in some circumstances, participants may be contacted as late as the day of the focus group. Your team will already have made plans concerning when to make first contact with the participants, but there are a few points to make about arranging the session with potential participants.

It is a very good idea for the members of the team who will conduct the focus group to visit the participants in their home to invite them to the session. This will indicate that the team considers the participant important enough to make a personal visit and could encourage them to attend. When you visit participants at their home, you can collect some basic demographic data: their age, occupation and marital status, for example. Registration at the time of the focus group takes up valuable time, and people may not want to register and give away personal details in front of other participants.

When you first arrive in a particular location, it is probably appropriate to contact the local leader, or perhaps the health worker, to obtain permission to enter the community. They will most probably help you locate your participants and can be of great use in arranging a site for the session. It is a courtesy to explain your purpose, but try not to give details of the session as this could influence responses.

Consider the daily activities of the participants and be sensitive to the amount of time they would have available to give up for a two hour session. A focus group scheduled late afternoon might interfere with the preparation of an evening meal for example, and you will find that you'll have fewer people willing to participate. By the time participants get to the session, linger for a while talking to friends, then return home, they could easily have lost half a day. Never pressure people into attending. People who are anxious about duties awaiting them at home will not be good participants anyway. You can encourage participation by offering child care at the session. In one study which used focus groups, when women indicated that they would only be free after the evening meal, the researcher arranged to serve them dinner, and so maximised participation and created a warm and friendly atmosphere which encouraged the participants to discuss some sensitive issues relating to their health (Siriporn Chirawatkul, pers.comm.).

7.2 Before the participants arrive

The team should arrive before the appointed time to make sure the place where the focus group discussion is to be held is ready. The checklist you will have prepared should also cover these preparations, so always refer to it before the session.

If you have already arranged the session a day or two ahead, it is worth visiting the participants to remind them if this is at all possible. You may also need to make another courtesy call to the local leader or health worker.

The seating needs to be arranged to encourage a group discussion (in a circle) and the equipment set up and tested once more.

7.3 As the participants arrive

One reason the team will arrive before the appointed time is to let people know that the session will go ahead as planned, and the team is ready to receive them.

The reception time is designed to get to know the participants and to put them at ease. The role of the team is rather like hosting a gathering of friends or neighbours.

Small talk is ideal at this point. It is best to talk about minor issues. You should be aware that issues that will be raised in the focus group should not be discussed before the session begins. Sometimes people will only be prepared to express their views once. Controversial topics should also be avoided! We must maintain the "neutral" appearance at all times so people will be free to express themselves later.

If participants did not register in their homes, then this would be the time to complete that task. In some communities it is a good idea to give participants name tags. It will help the moderator a great deal to be able to remember participants' names, and it creates a friendly, warm atmosphere. It also helps the observer identify responses of certain participants.

The reception time is also a time to observe the participants to see how they communicate with each other. Talkative or dominating people should be seated next to the moderator so that he or she can turn away from the dominator should the situation arise that they are taking over the session. Shy people can be seated opposite the moderator to enable maximum eye contact. The observer should greet participants at the door while the moderator/s are conducting the "small talk".

Should participants ask questions about the topic to be discussed, it is important not to give them too much information. If participants have a detailed idea of what information we require, when the questions are asked they may not respond in a natural way. For this study, the following points can be given as a "routine" response to such questions:


Add in to this section the responses that you all agree to give to specific questions about the session and the topic under discussion.

7.4 Deciding when to start

The ideal number of participants is eight. Should only some of the participants turn up, be prepared to start with as little as four. This is not really as productive, but we must respect the fact that those participants who have come, may have done so at the expense of their normal activities. They must be made to feel important, and we can do this by demonstrating that their views are still worth listening to.

Should less than four participants arrive, then it is not a waste of time to sit casually with them and discuss the same questions. They may be able to give you some new information that can help with the study. Even talking like this can provide you with valuable information.

7.5 What to do if too many people arrive for the focus group

Often in villages, the focus group will be seen as an unusual and entertaining event. It is best for our research purposes if only those invited actually attend. However, should a crowd of people assemble you need to be sensitive to local custom.

Discretion in discouraging extra people will be left to the team's knowledge of the area and local custom. Be aware of the need for flexibility in this matter. In one study, extra people were asked to leave, but a second focus group was arranged the following day so that the moderator could talk to them also (Siriporn Chirawatkul, pers.comm.).