Using WhatsApp for focus group discussions: ecological validity, inclusion and deliberation

Colom, Anna (2021). Using WhatsApp for focus group discussions: ecological validity, inclusion and deliberation. Qualitative Research (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794120986074

Abstract

WhatsApp’s ubiquity in many people’s everyday lives points at new possibilities for conducting online and mobile focus groups. Yet, research on the benefits and potential pitfalls of this is negligible. This paper offers new empirical insights from using the method as part of a digital ethnography with young activists in Western Kenya. The presence of WhatsApp in participants’ everyday lives offers a context with high ecological validity. The paper suggests that this opens up new options for designing online focus groups, transcending the traditional categorisation between synchronous and asynchronous interactions and some limitations of both approaches. WhatsApp also offers opportunities for creating more inclusive group discussions. Using discourse analysis of the WhatsApp focus group, the paper also finds that this familiarity and inclusivity affords the potential for group deliberation, which can be particularly valuable in participatory research.

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