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Research - Focus Groups

A focus group is a qualitative data-gathering methodology. (Qualitative data is any kind of information that is not statistical or numerical in nature.) A focus group has been defined as "a carefully planned discussion designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment" (Kreuger, 1994, p.6). The discussion is led by a trained facilitator who, following a prepared guideline, seeks opportunities to probe ideas and attitudes behind the answers and to pursue unexpected informational directions.

In addition to requiring a trained facilitator, some effort and resources (i.e., incentives) are usually required to ensure adequate attendance. While they can be "low-budget," focus groups are sometimes audio- or videotaped in order to allow for subsequent in depth analyses of responses.

Focus groups are frequently used in social norms projects to pilot test social norms messages and media, such as posters and flyers, and to determine media channels and preferences. They may also be used to sample specific and/or hard-to-reach segments of the population, and can be used to further investigate questions that may arise from the analyses of data derived from surveys.

There are a number of excellent references and guidebooks that describe how properly to plan for, to conduct, and to analyze the results of focus groups. Among them are:

Krueger, Richard A. Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 1994.

Krueger, Richard A. Moderating Focus Groups. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 1998.

Morgan, David L. The Focus Group Guidebook. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 1998.

Edmunds, Holly. The Focus Group Research Handbook. Chicago: NTC Business Books, 1999.

Fabiano, Patricia and Lederman, Linda C. Top ten misperceptions of focus group research. The Report on Social Norms: Working Paper No. 3: April 2002.