The focus group discussion is one of the best methods for exploring perceptions and gathering ideas from individuals in a relaxed environment. However, sometimes we need triggers for initiating the discussion to achieve study goals. How those triggers are provided may be culturally sensitive. In our example, we wanted to gather thoughts around peer feedback in a Saudi Arabian medical school. Tutor-facilitated focus groups were the most pragmatic approach, but we were aware that perceived hierarchy and cultural sensitivities might detract from students’ honesty and openness about a mandatory part of their course. We found through a literature review that card sorting can be an effective method to promote discussion in such situations.
Based on this review, we designed and prepared 24 cards, each with a different statement about peer feedback and invited all students enrolled in a problem-based learning course where peer feedback on group engagement is a required part of the course. All 198 agreed to take part, resulting in 10 single-gender focus groups of eight to nine students each. The lead author (male) and a female colleague facilitated the groups using the statement cards with five Likert-type-style cards indicating a range from strongly agree to strongly disagree.
Although this was a small single-centered study, initial indications are that this method worked to facilitate open and honest discussion. More research is needed on the wider applications of this methodology in other settings where open discussion tends to be hindered by cultural approaches or values.