Note: The Youth Development Program Evaluation team will share tips and resources in YD Update to aid staff in program evaluation efforts. The information will be archived on the Staff Only web page. Please send any questions or suggestions for future topics to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you planning on conducting a focus group in the near future? This is a great data gathering technique that can elicit useful information about your programs.
A focus group is a method of group interviewing in which the interaction between the moderator and the group, as well as the interaction between group members, serves to produce information and insights in response to carefully designed questions. When desired information about behaviors and motivations is more complex than a questionnaire, focus groups with well-designed questions can often get at more honest and in-depth information.
Selecting participants. Focus groups are typically comprised of six to 10 participants who have similar associations to the topic (i.e., Elementary teachers discussing a new reading curriculum). Selecting participants who are similar may help to share ideas more freely and may prevent results from being so mixed that no conclusions may be drawn.
Number of groups conducted. For evaluation purposes two to three focus groups are often conducted. Using only one focus group to arrive at conclusions about a particular topic is risky since the opinions expressed may have had more to do with the group dynamics.
Organizing the meeting. Focus groups typically cover about five main questions (each with sub questions or probes) in the span of 90 minutes.
Setting considerations. The setting in which a focus group is conducted should be comfortable. Quality refreshments and comfortable chairs may go a long way in making participants who have volunteered their time to participate in a focus group feel appreciated. Tables and chairs should be arranged so that all participants can easily see one another.
Facilitator of a focus group. You should keep the following considerations in mind: have an assistant moderator, be mentally prepared, use purposeful small talk, use pauses and probes, record the discussion, and use an appropriate conclusion (summarize, review purpose, thanks and dismissal).
Finally, a few reminders about focus group questions: use open-ended questions, avoid Yes/No or Why questions, use "think back" questions (i.e: "Think back to a time when X,Y, or Z happened, what do you remember the most about that experience?"), use questions that get participants involved and focus the questions from general to specific.
If you would like more information on how to prepare and conduct a focus group please visit the Richard Krueger website as well as the NY State Teacher Centers on Program Evaluation. Please share your questions or comments in the comments section below, which could inform our future tips!
Extension educator, program evaluation