Focus Groups

Focus Groups

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Qualitative research tool in which a group of participants is invited to share feelings and thoughts on a specific topic (such as a product, a service, a concept, an advertisement, an idea...). Participants, who are usually alike persons, can spontaneously talk with each other, since the focus group session runs in an interactive setting.

A small group of people brought together in a discussion specifically designed to uncover and share insights and observations, suggest new ideas or make recommendations on a specific subject of interest.[1] A moderator or interviewer usually guides the discussion without necessarily controlling it. The focus group is comprised of limited number of "homogeneous participants who discuss a predetermined topic within a permissive and non-threatening environment"[2].

In evaluation, focus groups have been used for purposes of:

  1. Understanding a problem, situation or programme from the perspective of a certain group. Any understanding stemming from the focus group discussion may be used to develop a programme logic model or help gain insight into various perceptions on a given topic.
  2. Pilot testing programme ideas, services or policies

Benefits of focus groups

  • quick method;
  • helpful for collecting information on the group's attitude on a given subject, that would be difficult to obtain without interaction;
  • useful for eliciting information on the characteristics of conversation.

Be aware that...

  • Focus Groups can be effective only with a skilled moderator, who has to balance the freedom and spontaneity of the conversation against the focus on the topic.
  • Participants' answers are influenced by the social environment: in order to avoid conflict, their attitude is usually more polite and moderate compared to what they would show in one-to-one interviews.
  • It is difficult to generalize Focus Groups' output, since the number of participants is not large enough to be representative of the whole population.
  • Group should be composed by people who are similar, in order to limit the self-censorship. Hence, to collect data on persons with different characteristics it is necessary to run multiple focus group sessions.
  • Results are difficult to analyse because sessions must be audio taped and transcribed and because the issue is influenced by the moderator, who participates in the session too. [3]

See also: Needs Assessment; Audience Analysis; Stakeholder Analysis; Problem Tree Analysis

Toolkit.png Organizing a Focus Group

Preparing a Focus Group

  1. Identify the main goal of the focus groups.
  2. Select 6-10 participants (they should have strong feelings about the issue to be discussed and also have similar characteristics, such as the same age or the same status).
  3. Avoid involving friends in the same session, since they can form cliques.
  4. Plan your session (consider that the meeting should last 1.5 hours approximately).
  5. Phrase five to six open and neutral questions to ask the participants (be careful to formulate them in a language the participants are familiar with).
  6. Send the participants an invitation explaining the goal of the meeting, the proposed agenda, the main issue to be discussed and the related questions.
  7. Set a quite room and arrange the chairs in a circle (if possible, around a table).
  8. Plan to record the session (using audio/audio-video recorder) or ask a co-facilitator to take notes during the meeting.

Running Focus Group

  1. Welcome the participants.
  2. Ask the participants to introduce themselves and, eventually, to wear name tags.
  3. Review the agenda.
  4. Introduce the main goal of the meeting.
  5. Ask the questions you have prepared and reflect back a summary of participants’ answers.
  6. Ensure balanced participation: if there is somebody dominating the session, invite participants to speak in turn; respect participants’ right to be silent but give them the chance to express themselves in a one-to-one context (for instance, during a break).
  7. Let disagreements arise, since they can lead to interesting and innovative ideas, but be careful in managing them.
  8. Avoid sharing your personal opinion with the group.
  9. Keep the discussion on track. [4]

Job Aid

Pdf.png Organizing a Focus Group


  1. United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). Programme Manager's Planning Monitoring & Evaluation Toolkit, 2004.
  2. Krueger A. Richard in Mathison, Sandra. Encyclopaedia of Evaluation, pp 160, Ed. University of British Columbia. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2005.
  3. Wikipedia (3 June 2009), (3 June 2009), (3 June 2009), (3 June 2009)
  4. (30 July 2009); (30 July 2009)