Reading Time: 5 minutes

Plummer, P. (2017a). Focus group methodology. Part 1: Design considerations. International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 24(7), 287–301.

  • Focus on a specific topic and discussion is facilitated by a moderator.
  • Focus groups allow for insights into the ideas, attitudes, understanding and perceptions, vocabulary, and thinking patterns of group members surrounding a specific phenomenon.
  • The interactions between participants are of particular interest in focus groups (Kitzinger, 1995).
    • Allow for diverse viewpoints
    • Allowing for discussion to build upon group members responses
    • Answers are refined as they explain themselves to the group (Kitzinger, 1994)
  • Allows for debate, argument, and storytelling.
  • Provides an opportunity to better understand a problem, and the decision-making processes.
  • Provides an opportunity to allow for various perspectives, not designed to reach consensus.
  • Participants should be recruited based on their involvement, experience, and interest in a particular event.
  • It is recommended that participants in each focus group have similar backgrounds and experience, so that participants feel comfortable to share their views, avoiding intimidation by those with more power (see also Krueger & Casey, 2014).
  • Recommends groups of 6-8 people, but can range from 3-12. Too few may not allow for sufficient interaction, while a group that is too large may be hard to manage and limit the interactions of quieter participants.
  • Smaller groups are better suited for when in depth understandings are sought.
  • Recommend over recruiting to account for attrition.
  • Focus groups are best conducted in a series (4-5, with at least 3).
  • The moderator is responsible for introducing the topic, themselves, and allowing group members to introduce themselves. They will guide the conversation, emphasize confidentiality, be non-judgmental, paraphrasing to ensure understanding. The moderator must be intimately familiar with the topic, and thus the researcher is a good person to fulfil this role.
  • Groups should sit in circles to facilitate conversation
    • Recommend having the note taker sit across from the moderator, so as not create a “power-block” (p. 300).
  • Questioning should follow a triangular approach, start off broad, and narrow your questions (Hurworth, 1996).
    • Have the initial broad question be answered in turn by each participant, then allow for free discussion

Plummer, P. (2017b). Focus group methodology. Part 2: Considerations for analysis. International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 24(8), 345–351.

  • Outlines how focus groups can be designed to meet the criteria for assessing trustworthiness: dependability, credibility transferability, and confirmability.
  • Dependability:
    • Ability for someone else to draw the same conclusions from the data.
    • Use an audit trail
  • Credibility:
    • Extent to which the findings represent the beliefs of the participants
    • Focus groups have high face validity, but are at risk of censoring and conformity.
  • Transferability:
    • Ability for findings to be applied to another, similar setting.
    • Use rich descriptions
  • Confirmability:
    • Findings are based in data, and not the researchers biases.
  • Plummer provides useful tables of strategies of how to address these criteria.
  • To enhance trustworthiness
    • Engage in peer review
    • Disclose the researcher background (identity, credentials, occupation, gender, experience, and training; Mays & Pope, 2000).
    • Create an audit trail (data, question routes, recordings, transcripts, list of interviewees, and clear decision-making processes)
    • Provide rich descriptions
    • Acknowledge that member checking is much harder for focus groups, having a second observer may enhance the credibility and dependability of data.
    • Plan and manage your project
      • Identify target population and how you will recruit
      • Use identical question routes between groups
      • Describe and use clear methods
      • Have transcripts independently assessed
      • Have 1 person responsible for analyses
      • Communicate with research team frequently
  • When analyzing the data, make note of pauses, laughter, and group dynamics. Pay attention to topics they are focusing on.
  • When recording, it is good to note time points within your field notes. Make note of seating arrangements, speaker order, non-verbals, and any themes or ideas as they emerge during the focus group.
  • Confidentiality is a major ethical concern. This must be emphasized during the focus group.

Stewart, D. W., Shamdasani, P. N., & Rook, D. W. (2011). Introduction: Focus group history, theory, and practice. In D. W. Stewart, P. N. Shamdasani, & D. W. Rook (Eds.), Focus Groups (2nd ed., pp. 1–17). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

  • Focus groups allow for an opportunity to speak to multiple people who have all experienced a concrete situation together (Merton & Kendall, 1946), narrowing down on a single focus.
  • Informs research that is exploratory, clinical, or phenomenological (Calder, 1977).
  • Allows for the exploration of group dynamics, provides insight into the individual’s and group’s perceptions, information processing, and decision-making processes.
  • Provides an opportunity to witness group members accept or reject other’s ideas/understandings and perhaps provide insight in to why.
  • Focus groups provide an opportunity to get beyond surface level explanations, and look at the inner workings of the group.
  • Warns against the use of focus group guides with too many questions, which won’t allow for in-depth discussion.

Stewart, D. W., & Shamdasani, P. N. (2017). Online focus groups. Journal of Advertising, 46(1), 48–60.

  • Focus groups are useful for topics where there is little known about the topic or phenomenon
  • Technology has reduced or eliminated the restrictions of time and space required to conduct a focus group. However, they limit the human, face-to-face, interactions. However, this is disputed as broad band becomes quicker people are able to interact synchronously (Hoffman, Novak, & Stein, 2012; Yoon & Vargas, 2014).
  • Potential for anonymity in a virtual focus group may reduce censorship.
  • Effort needs to be put in to verify participant’s identity to ensure they meet the participation requirements
  • Allows people to better plan their time as travel is no longer an issue, and focus groups may be conducted asynchronously. There is flexibility to online vs in person attendance/planning however, flow and spontaneity of discussion may be an issue.
  • Types: Synchronous, Asynchronous, and within a virtual world
    • Asynchronous: discussion boards, chat-based discussions. Gives participants more time to think about their contributions to the conversation. Providing detailed answers. May be harder to keep people engaged if the focus group lasts too long. But allows for more detail, and thought, as participants have time to consult others, and documents.
    • Synchronous: conducted in real time, up to 8 participants. Voice/video chat.
  • Provides great tables of considerations for all formats.
  • Requires some level of technical proficiency on behalf of the participant.
  • Lead (planning) time for online focus groups is significantly reduced. But there is a risk of higher drop-out rates.
  • For all forms of focus groups, 12-15 questions is ideal

Focus groups have been used in clinical settings to explore clinical problems. Perhaps focus groups will also be useful for educators/program designers to understand the issue and context within which bullying occurs and what programs need to address.

According to Plummer (2017a), participants should have experience in the topic. A question that came to mind, was whether I should focus on recruiting participants who were there for the initial program implementation, or include all interested participants, whether they were there or not. I am leaning towards including all interested participants, as those staff or administrators who did not experience the program implementation may provide valuable insights into the programs permeation into the school culture and thus the sustainability of the program long after program implementers have left.

Additionally, Plummer (2017a) discusses having homogeneity of groups to ensure that group members will feel comfortable in sharing their views. In response to this, I will be ensuring that teachers and other support staff will be in a separate group from principals and administrators.

To address issues of credibility (Plummer, 2017b), the follow-up interviews may provide participants who did not share as much due to the group nature of a focus group, the opportunity to share, and weigh in on the previous discussions.

To address issues surround transferability, rich descriptions will be acquired of the context of the school board (e.g., location, SES), as well as demographic information for all participants as it pertains to bullying prevention (e.g., years of experience, gender, whether they were part of the initial implementation).

With the research potentially being in a rural area, I am tempted to explore the virtual focus group option in more detail. This platform, whether voice-based, or text based may provide more anonymity that participants may want when talking about a potentially sensitive topic with their colleagues.


I will be able to facilitate an audit trail (Plummer, 2017b) using the website as a research journal. Other researchers would then be given the opportunity to review my findings, decision process, and critique my analysis. Additionally, this form of sharing thoughts, decisions, analyses, will provide participants themselves to weigh in and provide a rigorous member checking process.

Things to explore further

*to come

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