3 Focus groups

An alternative research approach to the interview is the use of Focus Groups. These are group interviews that last 1-2 hrs. The technique has a long history although mainly in market research. Consequently, its status in academic research has not been high, but it is becoming much more accepted both as an efficient exploratory approach and as a source of primary data for testing hypotheses. The typical size of such groups is 6-10. Their composition is not based on representativeness but on finding segments of the population of interest, likely to provide the most meaningful information. Thus research design will often be based on selected comparisons e.g. if class is an issue, groups would be class based, if gender is an issue, then groups would be all-women and all-men. The number of focus groups you use will be influenced by the degree of difference being explored in the population being studied, and by the need to ensure there is some sense that the group is not atypical of its population subgroup. The focus group process involves non-directive moderators (or facilitators) who concentrate on ensuring the area of interest is covered in the depth required, allowing a self-managing process to develop. Depending on the research goals the moderator may be more or less involved in directing and prompting the discussion to ensure the research areas are addressed.

Continuing to look to people as sources of information, we now consider participatory approaches to research including participant observation and participatory action research.

4 Participation, participant observation and participatory action research