Methodological innovation in the use of focus groups in qualitative health related research

Watts, Jacqueline H. and Psaila, Claudia (2013). Methodological innovation in the use of focus groups in qualitative health related research. In: BSA Medical Sociology Group Annual Conference, 11-13 Sep 2013, University of York.



Focus groups are “ideal for exploring people’s talk, experiences, opinions, beliefs, wishes and concerns” (Kitzinger, 2005: 57) and are increasingly used in a wide range of qualitative research. The dynamics of the focus group method centre on participants providing an audience for each other that encourages a greater variety of communication. Focus groups are not a natural event (Kitzinger, 2004); they are social process involving issues of trust, meaning and interpretation as well as relations of power between group members and between the researcher/facilitator and the group. These concerns informed the design of a series of focus groups undertaken to explore the spiritual dimension of psychotherapy with a group of psychotherapists. The requirement for an evolutionary process rather than a single focus group resulted in the development of a FOST group method. This group method is a blend of a focus group and a study approach. This paper discusses the context and practice of this method that is a spiral and evolutionary process of personal reflection and group interaction over a period of time. Details of different techniques used to stimulate discussion and debate as opposed to consensus seen as one of the limitations of focus groups, will be outlined. Also discussed are ethical considerations relating to potential vulnerability of participants in sharing ideas about spirituality that is both a theoretically complex and deeply personal topic.

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