A focus group is a small group people (e.g. 5 – 12) who have something in common that is of interest to the researcher.
The researcher acts as a facilitator and the participants are encouraged to talk openly about particular topics that are brought up by the researcher. They are encouraged to talk as if they would in a normal situation. The researcher can bring the topic of conversation back to its original focus, if it goes too far off track. The researcher can also identify areas of agreement and disagreement as they arise from the group, which facilitates the data gathering.
People are questioned in groups so that they can clarify their own views and ideas through the conversations and discourses they have with other participants. This would not happen in a one-to-one interview session.
It also allows people to use normal, everyday conversations and to chat as if they would in everyday life. This increases the ecological validity of the data, as it creates a more natural environment than in a semi-structured interview.
Everyday forms of communication are believed to reveal more about what people know and have experienced in the world.
IB Psychology HL students need to know at least two characteristics of a focus group interview and why it might be useful for an alternative method. This is assessed in Paper 3.
- It is effective for cross-cultural studies because people can talk in their everyday language and communicate as they normally would. This means that everyone can participate (even those people who can’t read and write).
- People can have opportunities to develop their own ideas based on what they hear from others.
- Time saving as more data can be gathered in a shorter time.
- It can identify cultural values and/or group norms as they exist within the group.
- People may be scared of sharing in a group. This is a limitation of focus groups for researching sensitive issues.
- It’s very difficult to analyse the data.
- Some group behaviour, such as conformity, might occur.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.