Information has an ability to influence the world and people in it by shaping different points of view and creating an idea about notions. That is why it is a matter of great importance to find the most precise instruments of gathering data. In this context, focus groups are distinguished among qualitative methods. The paper aims at analyzing focus groups, the results they give, along with potential and limitations.
Focus group may be defined as “any group discussion in which the researcher is actively encouraging of and attentive to the group interaction” (Barbour). It is an interactive way of collecting material. Focus groups are widely used in marketing research, community development, social science research, health services research, and organizational research.
In focus groups, people are asked to share their opinions about a specific issue. They are a form of group interview. It is crucial that a researcher collects the necessary information along with general perceptions and attitudes toward an item under consideration. This helps to evaluate various aspects of a product, service, concept, etc.
The information focus groups provide helps to find a reason for every effect and opinion, to find ‘why’ behind every ‘what’. Dr. Rose Barbour has pointed out the thought that focus groups are “useful when it comes to investigating what participants think, but they excel why participants think as they do” (Barbour). Focus groups are able to present detailed information and general tendency about a subject. The purpose of this form of research is to get a panoramic overview of a matter with various factors and features included.
A variety of methods is used in focus groups. One of the most beneficial for a researcher is a “structured eavesdropping”. Every focus group has its moderator. Apart from keeping the discussion on track and promoting debates, a moderator should pay attention to associations and spontaneous ideas that appear in the process of interaction. This insures a further development of a subject. Although it is hard to maintain balance in focus groups, people should feel free to disagree, put questions to each other, and hover around a topic. It is important to create a relaxed atmosphere. This brings us to a question of naturalism and artificiality. The point is that for the purpose of receiving objective results, focus groups should not be influenced by a moderator instead he has to secure increasing activity of the group.
Focus groups have their liabilities. It should be borne in mind that the information gathered from focus groups is not an absolute truth, but vivid hypothesis. The main problem with focus groups is an interpretation of results. Though the number of people in a group in most cases ensures an objective standpoint, a researcher may not be able to assess the outcome of discussion correctly for the reason of being interested in a particular thing and ignorant of another.
In focus groups, one should pay attention to more than one particular factor and point out a variation of details in a process. The importance of things that are said during discussions may be overrated while the things which are not said are usually underestimated. The structure of focus groups plays a significant role that defines a result. The results in groups in which the number of men dominates usually differ from those in which women prevail. Besides, a gender factor, age, experience, family situation, and cultural background have their effects as well.
Focus groups as a means of research require every aspect to be considered. This raises an important matter of the right way of choosing groups. The size, number, and other things are major factors in research. There have to be a few groups (from six to eight) that are not too similar but have common features in order for a moderator to be able to manage groups. It is a good idea to have more than one moderator to assist. In fact, there is not an actual instruction that goes with focus groups because ‘it all depends on the aim of research’ (Barbour).
My experience led me to a metaphorical perception of focus groups. This method is similar to a puzzle: there are a lot of pieces of a puzzle, just as people in groups that are fit together. Every set of pieces is unique and presents a different picture that helps to understand and explain a subject. Thus, the value of focus groups is that the results they provide are various configurations that conclude a vision of a problem. The final answer focus groups give is a combination of reasons and emotions, causes and effects.
Focus groups produce qualitative material as no other method. The data a researcher is able to collect in a dynamic interaction gives a different perspective on a specific field of interest. It is always a rewarding experience to include focus groups in studies. Nevertheless, the process of choosing groups, analyzing the data, and other practical arrangements take some time. This may discourage the attempt to use the method that is not as easy as it may seem to appear.
Focus groups have potential along with specific liabilities. Groups are useful in decision-making, choosing the way of development for a product, item, or concept. The value of focus groups is in the opportunity to get a comprehensive response to any topic in the process.