Respond to your colleagues posts with a suggestion about using a focus group for their research idea. Your suggestion may include 34 interview questions to ask, considerations for sampling; or how to manage recruiting participants.
Both a focus group and individual interviews enable researchers to collect qualitative data to gain a deeper understanding of perspectives, behaviors, understanding, or experiences of a specific group of people (Laureate Education, 2016). Researchers in both instances must have clarity on the questions they are trying to seek answers about and the population they which to sample (Laureate Education, 2016). Any interview requires careful planning, from planning the questions to be asked, to selecting a comfortable and appropriate site where the interviews or focus group would take place (Laureate Education, 2016). Ethically, participants in both situations must voluntarily give their consent in writing to participate, be informed about the topic of the study and how the information shared will be used and assured of confidentiality (Laureate Education, 2016). Participants in either venue might be provided incentives to participate in exchange for their time, such as gift cards (Laureate Education, 2016). Both the focus group and individual interviews involve a semi-structured conversation (Laureate Education, 2016).
The researcher determines the appropriate sample size they need and sends initial soliciting information to potential participants that fit the criteria of the population studied. The process is similar to recruit participants in a focus group and individual interviews since researchers can select from any of the numerous purposeful sampling techniques, or use preexisting or randomly selected groups. A key exception is that researchers often overrecruit from 20% – 50% above the intended sample size for a focus group, in anticipation of potential participants not showing up for the event (Onwuegbuzie, Dickinson, Leech, & Zoran, 2009). This practice does not typically occur with interview recruitment (Onwuegbuzie et al., 2009). In both situations, a researcher wants to set up enough focus groups or participant interviews to reach data saturation on the explored topic. The recommendation is to conduct multiple focus groups with different participants, to assess data saturation of relevant themes (Onwuegbuzie et al., 2009). According to Onwuegbuzie, Dickinson, Leech, and Zoran (2009), three to six different focus groups are adequate to reach data saturationwith each group meeting once or multiple times (p. 4). This idea is similar to how interviews are conducted with numerous individuals, separately, to assess data saturation of emergent themes. However, one key difference is that, because artificially convergent themes can emerge from focus groups due to the psychological conformity effect. Focus groups may result in a larger total number of participants, due to more repetitions of the focus group across groups of people, than interviewing methods to arrive at the same data saturation level (Onwuegbuzie et al., 2009).
Important differences exist with the implementation of a focus group and individual interview. The interview process is usually conducted by a single interviewer whereas, focus groups are usually conducted by a moderator team, consisting of a skilled moderator and research assistant (Laureate Education, 2016). Some researchers employ an experienced moderator who is skilled at relating to people, eliciting information from others, redirecting conversations to keep it focused on the topic, listening to others, reading body language, ensuring that no one person dominates the conversation and that all voices are heard (Laureate Education, 2016). On the other hand, the research assistant, welcomes the participants, helps with time management, ensures participants are comfortable, assists with reading body language and keeping the conversation focused, takes notes and ensures that the conversation is recorded (Laureate Education, 2016). Although rarer, it is possible for an individual interview to function similarly if it has the main interviewer and an assistant to take notes and record. Most interviews are conducted by the interviewer asking a series of preplanned or spontaneous questions to the participant. Although a focus group often also includes a similar agenda of questions, they can differ by presenting props or stimuli toward the participants, for them to respond to and give feedback (Onwuegbuzie et al., 2009).
There are some key differences that are benefits and disadvantages to conducting a focus group. Focus groups are less threatening, allowing participants to feel more comfortable and more easily share their opinions, especially if they feel like they belong to the group. Onwuegbuzie, Dickinson, Leech, and Zoran (2009), saw focus groups as increasing the participants sense of cohesiveness (p. 2). Focus groups are typically cheaper, take less time, enable a larger study sample, and allow for faster data collection (Onwuegbuzie et al., 2009). The fact that focus groups are inherently social in nature, can be an advantage for when discussing social themes. Social issues are often complex and involve different perspectives from different people, so it is ideal to have these different perspectives conveyed and weighed at the same time, to allow conflicting perspectives to be discussed, compared, and potentially rectified in real time. Focus groups allow a potentially richer generation of data because participants can bounce ideas off each other, or be inspired by others to think of new ideas. This is a key difference between individual interviews and a focus group. Participants in a focus group are influenced by each other, which does not happen with a single interviewee. A focus group may result in an artificial consensus due to group psychology phenomenon of individuals conforming to the group, perhaps because some participants are too shy to speak up or voice dissenting opinions, or perhaps some participants simply follow along and agree with the majority opinion. This is a serious disadvantage of focus groups in comparison to interviews.
Whether a researcher conducts a focus group or individual interviews relates to the specific phenomenon they are studying and the question they are trying to answer. Researchers must align their approach to data collection with the objectives of the research (Azzara, 2010). For example, if a researcher is trying to understand the individual experience, decision-making process, or individual response to stimuli, then a researcher might select to conduct individual interviews. The individual interview enables a researcher to gather a participants response without contamination from the influence of a group (Azzara, 2010). Both types of interviews whether with an individual or focus group require skills. Many researchers are more comfortable conducting individual interviews and find them easier to manage than a focus group (Laureate Education, 2016). However, a researcher must weigh the ease of approach to the more appropriate approach to meet the objectives of the study.
The methods in both individual and focus group interviews seem complimentary. If possible, I would choose to include both in my qualitative study on college readiness. The concept of college readiness does not occur in a vacuum, so to speak, with solely the individual high school student acting entirely on their own to gather information, to navigate college or financial aid applications. Rather, the research shows that the primary source of college-relevant information for each student comes from the social network of peers, counselors and other teachers, parents, and siblings. The primarily social nature of focus groups can be leveraged as an advantage for assessing the complex social nature of college readiness. Focus groups would also allow for the potentially richer generation of ideas. Another potential reason is that focus groups allow more potential verification or cross-validation of the opinions of individual participants. This might be especially helpful since the intended study sample involves recent high school graduates. The study objective is to understand something about the past, what the students understood about college and how they prepared during their last year of high school. Memory is fleeting and distorted, especially in a student population at a pivotal and unpredictable time in their life such as the transition from high school to college. Thus, the focus group would help to avoid or counter any potential negative bias of inaccurate student memory.
To conduct the focus group, given that the intended sample size is fourteen, it would be ideal to split this group of participants into two groups of seven. To obtain data saturation, these two groups of seven participants could engage in multiple focus group events, or perhaps, the fourteen participants could be shuffled and randomly split into two groups for each focus group repetition. In this way, each new focus group would have a different mix of the original fourteen participants. This shuffling procedure could further help to counter or average across the group conformity effect within each focus group. The focus group would be based on a set of semi-structured questions. Additionally, I would prepare a series of teambuilding exercises centered around the topic, perhaps breaking up the group into smaller sets of three to four for each activity.
Azzara, C. (2010, June). Qualitatively speaking: The focus group vs. in-depth interview debate.
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Laureate Education (Producer). (2016). How to plan and conduct a focus group [Video file].
Baltimore, MD: Author.
Onwuegbuzie, A. J., Dickinson, W. B., Leech, N. L., & Zoran, A. G. (2009). A qualitative
framework for collecting and analyzing data in focus group research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 8(3), 121.
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