Focus groups

Barbour, Rosaline S. (2010). Focus groups. In: Bourgeault, Ivy; Dingwall, Robert and de Vries, Raymond eds. The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Methods in Health Research. London, UK: Sage Publications Ltd, pp. 327–352.



[From the Introduction]

Focus groups are a very commonly used method in health research and appear to be both highly accessible and amenable to addressing a broad range of topics. However, this masks some of the subtleties involved and the apparent ease with which focus groups can be employed has sometimes led to lazy and uncritical use. Although most novice focus group researchers already possess valuable transferable skills – via their previous committee work, teaching through seminars, using groupwork methods in a therapeutic context, or dinner party conversations – this is not the whole story. We should always be mindful of the rather different requirements that come into play when we are seeking to use group discussions in order to generate research data. Focus group discussions may resemble such informal conversations, but serve a somewhat different purpose and demand additional competencies...

...This chapter aims to provide advice on how to effectively design focus group studies, how to run focus group discussions and how to interpret focus group data. It begins by locating focus groups with reference to key research traditions and emphasizes the importance of ensuring that focus groups are used appropriately, drawing attention to the special benefits and resources afforded by placing focus groups firmly within the qualitative tradition. The particular advantages of focus groups are laid out, together with practical advice on research design (including recruitment and ethical issues; sampling and group composition; running focus groups and dealing with the challenges involved in analyzing focus group data). Examples of health research using focus groups are provided and the chapter concludes by discussing the contribution that focus groups can make.

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