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  • 00:11

    THERESA THORKILDSEN: Hi, I'm Dr. Theresa Thorkildsen formally.But informally, most people call me Terry or T-squared or T2.Today we're going to talk a lot about having an edifying focusgroup.There are seven steps involved in conducting a focus group.

  • 00:31

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: And so what I'll do is articulate each of those sevensteps and then give you a sense of howeach one can be elaborated on.First of all, we want to articulate whatto discover in a focus group.Second, we're going to look at how to set upa suitable environment.

  • 00:53

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Crafting guiding questions and potential probes,conducting each discussion, coding responses,and aggregating findings.So through those seven steps we canensure that a focus group is goingto yield the kind of new knowledge that you might need.First of all, the toughest part for decidingwhat to do for a focus group is learning

  • 01:14

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: when and how to use them.Focus groups can be really insightful.They can help individuals share really a rangeof opinions in a very quick and efficient sort of way.You can see abstractions and personal experiences.But when they're done badly, theycan be biased, misleading, uninformative, and so forth.

  • 01:37

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Articulating an Achievable PurposeWhat we want you to do is to think todayabout how to make a focus group a useful focus group in sucha way as to get the kind of information that you thinkis important.The first thing you want to do is think carefullyabout what you want to know.

  • 01:59

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: The more you know about this topicbefore you get started in the focus group,the easier it will be to generatenew knowledge as coming out of it, based on thingsyou might not want to know.So it's a good idea to figure outwhat theoretical propositions that youare interested in exploring, whatkinds of cultural assumptions you

  • 02:20

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: have or don't have about the communities in which you wantto work, and to think about how to lookat the topic from multiple perspectives.If you do that ahead of time, you'llstart designing the kinds of questionsthat you want to know.So articulating that clear purposeis really important for building a focus group.

  • 02:40

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Setting up a Suitable EnvironmentThe next really important step is setting upa comfortable work environment.Trying to help individuals reallyfeel comfortable with each other, with you,with the process.And on the one hand, many people hear the word environment,

  • 03:01

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: and think carefully about that as the physical arrangement.And of course that matters, but thereare some structural things that areassociated with focus groups thatare also really a good idea.The first thing to do is to think about multiple groups.If you start with only one group,you're likely to hear group think and the kinds of biases

  • 03:22

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: that individuals build when they're focused on sharinginformation with each other.So most of the time we minimize at least three to five groups,rather than one or two.And preferably more if that's useful.Ideally, you want about six members per group.

  • 03:43

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: But the number of members per groupis really also tied to what do you want to know.A lot of my work for example, is done in classrooms.And so coming into an intact classroom,the group is already formed and I'mlooking for a comfortable way in which members in the classroomcan be participating.

  • 04:04

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: The other thing that's really important in thinkingabout the suitable environment is notloading your participants with too much information.Helping them to think carefully about a few big centralquestions rather than about different kinds of things.Crafting Guiding Questions

  • 04:26

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: The third big step in designing a focus groupis to think about how to craft guiding questions sothat you're really focusing individuals'attention on the things that you want to know.I like to think of questions as having threedifferent structural elements.The opening questions really help individuals

  • 04:48

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: introduce the topic or understand the topicthat you're trying to introduce, and get comfortablewith just each other and the parameters of the groupdiscussion.You want to end up with no more than threeto five big questions.And what I would say is generally sometimespeople get into the four to five.

  • 05:09

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: I like to think of one to two big questions whenI do focus groups.And then the third kind of thing youwant to think about is how are you goingto close out the focus groups?What kinds of questions will you use at the endto kind of help individuals build summaries or pull thingstogether a little bit?So there are another set of questions or ways

  • 05:33

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: of thinking about designing the focusgroup that we use to help you generate a richer discussion.And one of the things that you want to do ahead of timeis to think carefully about what kind of coding schemesmight you be generating out of the results of your focusgroup?And so if you start with that, and then

  • 05:55

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: say well what kind of guiding questions mightI need to ask that will ensure that the elementsof my coding scheme are able to come out in the conversation.That's a good way to start thinkingabout walking in the shoes of the participants in your focusgroup.Identifying Potential Probes

  • 06:16

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Another important step is to think about probing questionsor follow-up questions.So how will you help individuals articulate what they're doing?I know that sometimes I have complex thoughts.I trip over my own words.You'll probably see that in this video.Having people probe and ask pointed questions or follow-up

  • 06:37

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: questions, that may help me as a participant understandwhat you're interested in, what kind of too much information,and how to contribute.So those kinds of specific questionsmight be planned ahead of time.And then obviously, you have to be able to think on the spotand generate those in the moment as well.

  • 06:60

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: And then a third kind of questionis generated between the people who are doing the focus groups.So ordinarily we think of two different kindsof roles, the leader's role and the observer role.And after each group discussion, there'sshould be a whole set of questions

  • 07:20

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: around had the focus group go.What kinds of things did we learn?What things should we do differently this timefrom last time?So that kind of debriefing needs to take placeat the end of each focus group.And that way people will understand the context in whichthe group discussion happened.

  • 07:41

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Conducting Each DiscussionSo in the next step of a focus group,the actual in the moment conducting the discussion,there are some really important stepsthat leaders should try to do.And then there are also steps that observersor the record keepers should try to do.

  • 08:04

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: I'll talk about each of those in turn.The leaders generally, should be trained firstof all in how to embrace the answers of all participants.One of the biggest things that happens in focus groupsis lots of different kinds of ideas.And what you could be worried about a little bit too much

  • 08:25

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: without training is how to jump on to one idea.And then that becomes the only idea.So a good leader learns how to pull out different perspectivesand generate that kinds of conversationon a regular basis.It's a tough thing, but learners alsoneed to figure out how to minimize their own assumptions

  • 08:45

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: and not sort of load questions or ask leading questions thatactually undermine people's abilityto express a perspective that the leader may or may notunderstand at all.Then another thing you want to dois find ways to invite the volunteers in your focus group

  • 09:07

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: to elaborate on obscure points.Sometimes they'll actually make a point,and it doesn't really come acrossto the whole group in the sense that everybodyis resonating with that point.How can you tactfully pull back to that pointand ask people to elaborate a little bit more?So you have to do a lot of active listening

  • 09:29

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: in this kind of setting if you want to be effective.Another important thing, really important thingthat's really hard for people to do at timesis to mirror the language of the participants in the focusgroup.So a lot of us who are academics have big wordsthat we use all the time.Focus group members may not have that kind of thing.

  • 09:52

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: How can you take your own languageand monitor your language so that whenyou hear participants say a certain thing,you actually then mirror that language.And then you let them do most of the workfor producing new ideas.You want to observe participants' body

  • 10:13

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: language in a really careful way to see are they comfortable,or they are uncomfortable, what kinds of thingsdo they need to do to make them feel a little bit morecomfortable.The other thing though you need to dois be really monitoring your own body language.And that's really challenging because some of usdon't really notice what we do.

  • 10:34

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: But the tone, sometimes the smile, the frown, the nod,the eye contact, that sometimes shows approvals or disapprovalsin ways that are skewing the results of the focus groupdiscussions.So you want to be really careful about that.The other thing people want to dois think about when to use closed questions.

  • 10:58

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Those are questions that either have a right/wrong answer,or a yes/no answer.They can be used in focus groups, but judiciously.I use them in my groups to take the temperature of the group.Is an idea particularly common for everybody?Is it a rare idea?Do people agree?Do they disagree?But if the focus group discussions are always

  • 11:20

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: those kinds of closed questions, what'll happenis you'll have fewer ideas and fewer answerson the part of participants.And so trying to use those judiciously isa really important skill, but not doing too much of thatis an important thing.Another issue is that sometimes focus groups

  • 11:41

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: have sort of closure, like people have said what they wantto say and now they're done.What can you do to sort of raise new approachesto the same question during the focus groupso that people can remove that sense of fixed perspectivesand broaden their understanding so that youcan get greater levels of fluency and flexibility

  • 12:04

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: in how they're thinking about the topic?A really strong leader practices those kindsof skills well ahead of time.Again, they should be very tied to the topicthat you're interested in.And the more of that practice you have,the easier it is to do these kinds of things.Focus groups also have this other dilemma,

  • 12:25

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: and that is that the tone of how questions are asked, whenquestions are asked, and the order in which questionsare asked, are things that peoplewant to be careful about.So for example, you don't want to judge respondents' ideas

  • 12:48

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: and so forth.But at the same time, you want to encouragea lot of participation.That sort of judging behavior reallycan close down a conversation.Yet you want to figure out ways to alsoallow students or participants-- sorry,I work with students a lot-- but participants in a focus group

  • 13:08

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: to involve multiple perspectives,but conflicting perspectives should also come upin a good focus group, where studentsdisagree with each other as often as theyagree with each other.One way to do that is to avoid leading questions,loaded questions, questions that are really

  • 13:29

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: skewed toward an idea answer.Working with students as I do, a lot of themwant to please their teacher.And so they'll really look carefullyat what do you want to know from us.And so being really careful about that kind of bodylanguage, and tone, and how you ask questionsis a really important leadership skill too.

  • 13:51

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Some other planning issues to think aboutthat I think could be done with the leader or maybethe observers or the team who are recording things isyou really want to find multiple ways to document all the thingsthat go on in a focus group.And some of that may include asking people to write things.

  • 14:13

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: We use media a lot, like audiotapes and videotapes.But also maybe little bits of notes.Try not to be too much note taking, but at the same time,documenting ideas using a lot of different mediawill ensure that you capture most of what went on.Another really important thing is to let the participants

  • 14:36

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: and each other know about some obvious ground rules.That sort of skill takes a little bit of practice.But people need to know what are the parameters for this.What kinds of things can we do?What kinds of things should we not do?And then if that's obvious in a visual way,you're going to see that people will

  • 14:57

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: follow those rules usually.So the biggest issue there is to try and figure outways to have respectful conversationsrather than ardent over argumentation.You want to find ways to be acceptingof a variety of ideas.Making some guidelines that are age appropriate, context

  • 15:20

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: appropriate, and so forth can ensure that people do that.And then it's a really good idea to sort of write down or havesomebody writing down some of the general themes that come upin the focus group conversations.So another element of this is to try and think ahead deeply

  • 15:40

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: about why people resist participating or talkingin a focus group.Sometimes the topic is just too complex for them.They need time to think, they need narrower questions,they need smaller questions.Those kinds of things that you can dowill help people feel a little more comfortable.

  • 16:01

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Anticipate those ahead of time, but alsolook for ways in the moment for peopleto be thinking of that kind of stuff.Don't be afraid to invite individual members to speak.Sometimes we forget to do that.We say, I haven't heard from you over here.Or it's been a little while since these kinds of ideas

  • 16:22

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: came out.Find ways that are again, within the parameters of who you'reworking with, the rules for adultswill look a little different from the rulesyou might use for kids, but ways to acknowledge perspectivesand invite people to speak.And then suppose a group comes out of control a little bit.And there is really overt contradictions and people

  • 16:45

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: challenging each other.How might you manage the conflictin a way that also invites further participation?The conflicting points of views in a focus groupare really good skill to have.And we would really like to see that kind of conflictsometimes.But if it's not respectful conflict,

  • 17:05

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: people actually fade away and back out.And you won't get the kind of information you need.So turning to the other perspective of the peoplein the room who are trying to do this,leaders are charged with managingthe actual conversation.We usually do focus groups with a team of observers as well.

  • 17:29

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: The observers may be recorders, they may be monitors,they may help with timing, they may help with context.But there are some things that youwant to think about as observer rules or recorder rulesduring a focus group.

  • 17:50

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: The toughest job, I think, is managing the digital media.Equipment fails, you should know that, youshould anticipate that.You should have multiple kinds of media operations.Sometimes we set up different observers.Somebody who's in charge of tape recorders, someone'sin charge of films, someone's in charge of writing down themes.

  • 18:13

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Trying to make sure that one person doesn'thave too many jobs.But managing how you capture the information so that youcan use it is a really difficult challengeand requires a lot of planning in terms of both the contextand making sure that the volunteersare comfortable with this many people observing them.

  • 18:36

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Finding ways to assist with time is alsosomething the observer does.Building signals ahead of time so that we're on track,we're off track, that kind of stuff, is an important step.Spending time debriefing the leader after each focus groupdiscussion.If you string group discussions together, one after the other,

  • 18:58

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: make sure that you don't move the next groupbefore you finish debriefing on the first group.There's a lot of things that go on.The leader's role, if you can remember,they're actively listening, tryingto pull out vocabulary words out of individuals.That's a very tough job to do.

  • 19:20

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: They really probably become invisible to what's around themif they're actively listening.So the observer's job is to sort of bring them back to sortof the context in which the whole focus group happened.What kinds of things could they do better?What kinds of things need to be changed?But that sort of dialogue needs to happen after each one.

  • 19:42

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: And then finding ways to document everyone's ideas.And that may be your own too.So sometimes observers forget to record what did they observe.What did they think?And you want to figure out ways to make sure that youhave that record as well.Coding Responses

  • 20:02

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: If all of those things are done, and you'vebuilt some engaging questions, and you found ideal probes,then the next step is to think abouthow will I prepare the data and begin to code responses.So the act of preparing data reallygoes along with what kinds of media

  • 20:22

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: were used to capture what happened in the focus group.If it's really a complex media platform,sometimes you may have to translate things.For example, we've done things with audio tape recorders,and then we transcribed those because the softwarewe like to use, while it handles audio tapes,

  • 20:42

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: it doesn't handle it as well.So there's a way in which we need to think ahead of timehow will you prepare all the different ways in which you'vedocumented the events.And then set up the data for the different kinds of codingsthat you might need to do.So one of the really crucial thingsis if you're going to do transcriptions,

  • 21:03

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: if you're going to do data management,the sooner you do it, the better.A lot of times we get very involvedin the doing of focus groups, and we put those data sourcesaside.And then what happens is you can'tremember the connection between the different types of media.So audio tapes and video tapes and written comments

  • 21:24

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: don't come together very clearly if you've nothad time to think about how they'reconnected to each other.So try to find a way in which you can bring those together.We used software.There's a lot of different kinds of softwarefor tracking coding schemes.And so one of the things we do with focus group data lot

  • 21:44

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: is pull out guiding themes.And we count how many times in this groupdid these kinds of themes come up.How many times did person A say certain thingsor not say certain things?If you're using software that's capturesthe right kind of media, then you'll

  • 22:05

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: be able to track the kind of coding in a long term way.Then setting up coding rules for each typeof media well ahead of time.And then thinking about how to make sure that you engagein that kind of coding scheme.With another person, you're goingto want to try and find interrater reliability.

  • 22:27

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: So what does that mean?Sometimes people don't realize that most researchdata is rated by at least two people, often more raters.And you want to make sure that the different raters areseeing the same thing.Once that agreement is there, we canbe more confident about the findings of our focus group,

  • 22:47

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: and we can also be clear that we're notputting our own projections into what really happened.And we're going to be focusing much moreon what kinds of general themes or what kinds of informationcan we glean from the focus group.When the code book is done well and interrater reliabilityis high, the content of your focus group is less biased

  • 23:11

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: and realize that groups take on a structure of their own.But it makes it possible then to compare themes across groupsin a more systematic way.Aggregating FindingsOne of the toughest next steps is to think about--

  • 23:31

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: and really the last of the seven steps--is to think about how are you aggregate your findingsaround particular themes.And what are you going to do when you share your focus groupresults?So once you've identified the actual themes thatare apparent, you can compare them to the predicted themes,

  • 23:52

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: or the ones that were in your initial code book thatwere things you thought might come up whenyou invented the questions.You need to be able back and makethat comparison between what you thought you were going to doand what you actually found.It's what you actually found that is the findingsof your focus group.And so that's the part that you reallywant to put a big emphasis on.

  • 24:14

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Most of us spend a lot of time countingthe individual responses.And then we talk about how many responses are common,and how many are rare.So one of the ways in which people skew focus groupdata in a biased way is to take the really interesting storythat someone told and then blow it up and make

  • 24:37

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: it seem like all focus group members told the same storyor agreed with the same set of ideas.We would see that is a very biased representationof the focus group.And so ideally what you want to do is be systematic.When did particular themes come up?How often did they come up?And then when you're reporting your findings

  • 24:58

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: you can say this was a rare finding.This was a common finding.And it's that kind of informationthat helps people see what the new ideas arethat are going to come up out of a focus group as well.So comparing the frequency with which different themes come up.A lot of people also develop code books

  • 25:18

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: around the intensity with which people bring up ideas.So how much emotion was displayed?Ways in which people really got excited about particular ideasor really disagreed with particular ideasor the discussion stopped.It's another layer of coding that can really give youinformation about how people are responding to the topics

  • 25:41

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: that you're interested in.There's two ways in which a lot of us present the findings.One thing we do is we present bar graphs.We talk about frequencies, but we also break our samples down.We can talk about these in relation to different groups.For example, in this slide, we can actuallysee how age groups differ in particular themes.

  • 26:04

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: The themes are at the bottom.The age groups are the bars.Here's another one where we were playing onlywith the themes of a focus group.These are different attributions that came up.What's the percent?How many attributions got made?Be sure to keep all the promises that youmade with your participants regarding confidentiality

  • 26:27

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: when you aggregate your data.It's a really important skill to figure outhow not to breach confidentialityby highlighting some really personal informationthat someone might have shared.So you want to really be careful about howto report your findings so that you're reallysharing the reasons behind why you conducted the focus

  • 26:49

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: group and not excessively personal information or thingsthat people might have brought upthat weren't really important to share.Focus groups can help you make strategic decisionsin your future work.Investigators who are careful not to over interprettheir findings from focus groups obtain high levels of feedback

  • 27:10

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: on very specific points of interest.ConclusionNow that you've learned the seven steps involvedin organizing focus groups, I hopeyou'll feel better prepared to conduct your own,and that you'll find fun exploring particular projects

  • 27:31

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: in your own way.When choosing to include focus groups in your research,it's helpful to remember that there are a few risksto address before relying on them.You want to be sure that you have clearlyformed purpose for your project, and that it'smeaningful to the people who are going to be involved.Keeping that purpose firmly in mind,

  • 27:52

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: you want to be able to identify an ideal setting,craft a few general questions to explore in the time allowed.You may also want to practice establishing rapportwith people you don't know well before you conductyour first focus group and inventsome probing and follow-up questions thatwill enrich things.Minimizing the potential for facilitator bias.

  • 28:16

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: Try to avoid having questions or loaded questions.Enjoy the time we spend with the individuals that you're with.But encouraging each person to speak in their own languageand not necessarily to come up with the correct answer.Thinking about how you plan to code and aggregateyour findings ahead of time, you'll

  • 28:38

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: be able to anticipate some methods of addressingbias and trying to minimize the kinds of distractionsfrom the main reason for conducting your focus group.As you plan these and other potential risks,you're likely to find willing participants,a rich description of personal experiences,

  • 28:58

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: and thoughtful insights into the topics of your focus group.So there are other books available that youcan learn for more details and more adviceon how to conduct focus group.Creswell offers a really broad based coverageof how qualitative work of this kind of nature is done.

  • 29:18

    THERESA THORKILDSEN [continued]: And it allows you to situate focus groupsaround other kinds of things.And then there's two other books, Krueger and Caseyand Morgan offer more details of specific procedures and advicefrom experienced designers of focus groups.

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd

Publication Year: 2017

Video Type:Tutorial

Methods: Focus groups

Keywords: body language; emotion; group behavior; language; listening; nonverbal communication; practices, strategies, and tools ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Dr. Theresa Thorkildsen discusses strategies for conducting research using focus groups. Focus groups are an insightful way to do research, allowing individuals to share a range of opinions in a focused way. Thorkildsen discusses preparing before the focus group, conducting the actual focus group, and coding responses.

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Doing Focus Groups

Dr. Theresa Thorkildsen discusses strategies for conducting research using focus groups. Focus groups are an insightful way to do research, allowing individuals to share a range of opinions in a focused way. Thorkildsen discusses preparing before the focus group, conducting the actual focus group, and coding responses.

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