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Basic Uses of Focus Groups

 To learn what people know, believe, do or plan to do

about certain issues, ideas, or in response to
receiving specific information
 To stimulate ideas for developing a “product”,
solving a problem, or defining messages and
strategies for a communication/ community
involvement campaign
 To "pretest" messages and/or their potential
features (e.g. usability); or “pretest” preliminary
drafts of materials
Basic Uses of Focus Groups Cont.

 To help develop or pretest a survey or Q

instrument (i.e. generate wording of items that
have meaning to participants) -- or explore the
results of a survey or Q
 To evaluate or interpret what happened with a
communication program, specific materials, or
other outreach effort
 To explore knowledge, attitudes, perceptions
among different target groups/segments
Benefits of Focus Groups

 Allows for exploration among different groups

 Provides an unusual group setting, i.e. all
people are encouraged to speak
 Allows for exploration of complex behavior
and motivations
 Enables discussion to generate new
ideas/topics while providing structure
 Allows you to see information in participants‟
own words
Considerations for
Successful Focus Groups
1. Focus group methodology is appropriate for
the questions at hand
2. Screening is thorough and recruiting is
3. Logistical set-up is convenient and
welcoming for participants
4. Well structured discussion guide
Considerations for Successful
Focus Groups Cont.
5. Skilled moderating and a “safe”
environment conducive to open discussion
6. Back-up records of the proceedings
7. Timely "debriefing" for the moderator and
observers to confer on key findings
8. Analysis and coding have appropriate level
of rigor
Determining How Many
Groups to Conduct
 Consider who you want to hear from

 Degree of homogeneity/heterogeneity

 Resources available

 Complexity of study and analysis

Determining How Many
Groups to Conduct Cont.
 “Rule of thumb” – 3 to 4 groups with any one
type of participant pending saturation
 Saturation is point at which you have
discovered/ heard the range of ideas,
opinions, etc. and are not learning new
 Multiple groups are needed to allow for
analysis (i.e. patterns and themes across
groups or differences)
Determining How Many
Groups to Conduct Cont.
 In Toms River and Waukegan, we chose to do 3
groups each
 Both sites: “Officials” and “Highly Involved citizens” –
two key stakeholder groups that are likely to have
different perspectives and types of involvement
 Toms River: “General Public” who had shown some
interest in the site (from site mailing list)
 Waukegan: “Latino Community” – because other
stakeholders had expressed concerns about
reaching out to this specific segment of the
Recruitment and Screening
For Focus Groups
 Get a variety of people
 Heterogeneous to get range of opinions/ideas

 Get the “right” people- for specific groups

 Homogeneous by inclusion/exclusion criteria

 Get enough people

 Overbook (20-30% no show rate)

1. Develop a recruitment strategy (e.g., sources of

referrals, posters/flyers, pre-existing call/mailing lists)
2. Develop a recruitment script to screen and schedule
participants. Be sure recruiters practice the script
3. Consider inclusion/exclusion criteria to fit with the
goals of recruitment
4. Think about needs for transportation, childcare, etc.
5. Develop bridge chart of dates and times of the focus
groups, in preference order
Recruitment Script

 Introduction
 Explanation of project
 Screen for inclusion/exclusion criteria - early!
 Screen for other important characteristics
 Confirmation of eligibility
 Schedule
 Follow up of scheduling – Official letter, then
phone call 1-2 days before the group
Recruitment for Difficult-to-
Access Populations
 Some populations may be difficult to access
due to a lack of a population list, low levels of
trust, etc. – e.g. the Latino community in
 Can use a local liaison – someone who has
connections with the community in question
 May require special attention to location (pick
a place that they will feel comfortable)
 May need a special moderator – e.g. a
Spanish-speaking moderator for a Latino
group so that everyone can participate fully
Developing the Discussion
 Brainstorm questions & issues – with project
team, based on literature, other studies, etc
 Draft guide
 Revise as necessary over course of the
(guide is a living document written so as to allow
flexibility and evolve naturally)
Structuring Good Questions

 Easy to say/sound conversational

 Clear in meaning/use words participants would use
 Primarily open-ended
 Usually one dimensional
 Are sequenced appropriately, from general to
 May vary between groups – e.g. in Waukegan we
opened the Officials and Highly Involved groups
asking “What comes to mind when I say „Waukegan
Harbor Area of Concern‟?” but in Latino group we
asked “What comes to mind when I say „the
environment of Waukegan‟?”
Content of Discussion Guide

 Put participants at ease

 Develop context/background understanding
for discussion
 Introduce specific questions and materials -
they drive the study and should be limited to
 Summary of advice and comments
 False close opportunity
Tasks & Activities

 Brainstorm
 Reading material, watching video, etc.
 Answering questions
 Perform a task
 React/respond to scenario
Examples of Questions
 What comes to mind when I say [name site]?
 What types of CI activities are people aware of? Has
anyone participated in any activities? How did you find
out about these activities/opportunities?
 How would you characterize EPA‟s role in the site clean
up process? The Community Involvement process?
What about Ciba Geigy?
Examples of Questions Cont.
 Can you give me an example of something that was
particularly successful? How did you determine it was
 Are there some parts of the community that are not
represented in the process or involved? Who?
 Have your/the community‟s preferences or feelings
about the selected remedy changed at all over time?
Why/why not?
Observing & Note Taking
 Be familiar with the discussion guide - review in
 If in same room as where discussion will take place it‟s
important to be as unobtrusive as possible. Your
presence should not influence the group!
 Take advantage of the opportunity to really “see” what
participants say. Make note of participant‟s verbal and
non verbal reactions to the discussion
 Regardless of the urge – do not participate in the
discussion. This includes “correcting” what you see as
“errors” or “misinformation”; or attempting to intervene
in the group dynamics
Logistical Issues

 Need a safe, inviting space

 Be sure participants can locate the room
where the groups will be held
 Provide area for sign-in and consent
 Consider the set up for the audio (and video)
 Provide area for refreshments
 Arrange the tables and chairs for a focus
Analysis steps/phases

 Begin with reading transcript and notes

 Coding: Generating categories, themes, and
 Testing: the emerging themes against the data
 Verification: Searching for alternative
explanations of the data
 Writing the report
 Sharing the results
Interpretation of FG Data
 Words
 Context
 Tone of voice
 Body language
 Specificity of the comment
 Internal Consistency
 Frequency
 Extensiveness
 Intensity
 What wasn‟t said?
Generating categories,
themes, and patterns
 Identify salient themes, recurring ideas or
language, patterns of belief that link people and
 Categories need to be internally consistent but
distinct from one another
 Can be inductive: derived from reading, use
expressions of participants
 Can be analyst-constructed: researcher generates
not using participants words, applies typology to
naturally occurring variation
Example of a Coding Scheme
 Codes from WH and TR:
1. General awareness/concerns
2. Purpose(s)/goals
3. Methods to inform/involve
4. Comments on the various "participants”
5. Satisfaction with the involvement process
6. Satisfaction with clean up activities and
7. Satisfaction with reuse (WH only)
8. Suggestions for improvement
Using Participants’ Own
 Possibly the most important advantage of
focus groups is the ability to use participants‟
own words to illustrate findings
 Using direct quotes preserves the nuances of
what people think
Using Participants’ Own
Words Cont.
 Examples from Toms River:
 Some participants were concerned about using public meeting
time efficiently: “… you‟ve been going to these meetings for
years, and somebody who just moved into the community gets
up there, and now wants a total explanation of everything that
happened. A lot of the, the speakers will, will, out of courtesy try
to address that, address their question, but the thing is that it‟s
frustrating for the people sitting there that want the new
information brought out.”
 Some participants were unhappy with the relationship between
EPA and Ciba: “They should be totally separate. … I‟ll give you
an example. I worked in [another] industry, and we had … federal
inspectors. We were not allowed to associate with them. They
could not get a cup of coffee from us, anything. After work, they
were not allowed to associate with us. And that‟s the way it
should be on that site too.”
Using Participants’ Own
Words Cont.
 Examples from Waukegan:
 Contaminated fish were a concern in the Latino group: “I know a family
that in this summer fishes the last summer they showed me some fish
that they got out of the lake. When they opened them the fish were bad.
I know what a fish looks like when it‟s fine and good to eat and when it
eats trash. I know what looks like but a lot of people don‟t. When they it
opened it and showed me I said you can‟t eat these fish and they said
why and I said because it has eaten trash and its rotten inside it‟s very
different from a fish that is healthy and they said that it was fine even
though I said they should not eat it but they ate it anyway.”
 Participants in the Latino group felt that information about the site was
not accessible for them: “What I think is that – and this happens a lot in
this area. There is not an equal approach for dispensation of information
to the Hispanic community. There are a lot of things reported and they
don‟t think that a lot of people have access to the information. Some
people don‟t have education and that is a problem.”
Using Participants’ Own
Words Cont.
 More examples from Waukegan:
 Participants thought education was important: “But I think these
school conferences where children at fifth grade are learning --
these kids are 10, 11, 12, years old. In six years they‟re going to
be voting. But they‟re also going home with an award or, you
know, they‟re excited about what they‟re doing here, and they‟re
telling their parents. And it‟s the time spent in the saddle up there
in that local little neighborhood where we have the trust of the
school community and the neighbors, and I have -- you know,
people will stop me and say “oh, come here and see what I
 Participants accepted some responsibility for their level of
involvement: “… the problem is that maybe they say that “there is
going to be a meeting about this, will you come tonight” and we
say “oh no, I have something else I have to do” and so we don‟t
make it a priority and I see it…We have to participate and show
more interest in these things because no one is going to do it for
each one of us. We have to participate in one way or another.”
How Can You Use Results?
 As an internal “check”
 To modify CIP (add or delete activities)
 Policy or Program changes
 Other???