At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
Low - Medium
Length of process: 
2 hours
Number of participants: 
6- 12
Participant selection: 
Representative sample
Online / Offline: 
Offline

Focus Groups are guided discussions of a small group of citizens. They are normally one-off sessions although several may be run simultaneously in different locations.

Description

A facilitator leads a guided discussion of 6-12 people to gauge their views and attitudes on the subject. The discussions are normally recorded and a report is produced of the process and results which is then distributed to the participants. Clients or other interested parties may observe the discussions.

Focus Groups provide useful information on how people respond to particular questions or issues, but the short amount of time limits the depth of discussion that can be had.

Participants

  • The group needs to be small (6-12) for participants to feel comfortable in voicing their views.
  • Members of the Focus Group can be selected to be demographically representative or of a specific sub-set of the population.
  • It can be a good way of engaging marginalised groups e.g., people who are not native English speakers can be included through translators.

Costs

Low-Medium.

The cost of Focus Groups is generally not very high, unless you need to recruit participants through truly random selection, which can be costly.
An incentive may have to be offered to citizens in order to get them to participate. Additional costs include venue hire (choose an informal setting where possible), catering and supporting arrangements, such as childcare.

Approximate time expense

Low.

  • The Focus Group event itself is relatively short, usually one or two hours.
  • It is important not to overlook the time required to plan the event, recruit the participants and write up and respond to the results.
  • If the topic for discussion is complex or largely unknown to the participants you may need to provide reading in advance.

Strengths

  • High level of participant interaction due to the small size of the group.
  • Can lead to a greater understanding of how people think about issues.
  • Members can be specially recruited to fit (demographic) profiles.
  • Good for getting opinions from people who would not be prepared to give written answers.

Weaknesses

  • Heavily dependent on a skilled facilitator.
  • Easily dominated by one or two strong opinions. 
  • Some participants may feel inhibited to speak.
  • Responses are not quantitative and so cannot be used to gauge wider opinion.

Origin

Market Research: Focus Groups were developed in the private sector and are now widely used in the private, public and social research sectors.

 

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