Rarely does the scooby snack of the humanitarian and development sectors, the acronym, come along without being wedged into an awkwardly connected abbreviation. I managed to stumble across one though and it’s ridiculous, perhaps more memorable as a result, and potentially even useful.
As with most things within M&E there is both a hyper pragmatism and an theoretical aloofness to conducting focus groups. Either people just get them done without question, or they’re hypersensitive to each nuance. This is an attempt at nestling somewhere in the middle of such clowns and jokers. Here are what I think are constructive behaviours for conducting focus groups. Fortunately, what is good from a research perspective is often good from a principled one too. See what you think:
|Balance||freely discussing positives and negatives with equal importance and focus (as opposed to just fishing for compliments and presenting a shallow approach to learning)||participants feel encouraged to discuss both positives and negatives, that we receive more honest, balanced feedback and also that they know that we’re are self-critical in order to improve|
|Inclusion||ensure that different people interact from across the group, that everyone has a chance to have their say – the loudest voices shouldn’t carry the farthest||the quiet voice may provided the deepest insight and regardless, everyone should have a say, both on principled ground and those relating to conducting research|
|Comprehension||take time to explain what can be abstract and/or unfamiliar concepts – use examples, check understanding with the group||the most valid answers can only be achieved if the concepts being discussed are clear and well understood across the group|
|Engagement||use appropriate tone, energy and humour to encourage people to be stimulated by the discussion – it is their time you’re spending to get your insights, so make sure it’s engaging||engagement can make it easier for the group to participate, can maintain attention and avoid frustrating people through prolonged, dry uses of their time|
|Pace||ensure that the focus group keeps moving, that each exercise is given fair time and are done with a degree of flex for important points and discussions being allowed to run||communities’ time is respected and more focus groups can be conducted if time is kept well (and therefore wider perspectives sought); sections are given their due time to explore each concept|
And how to use them? As a framework to check your own approach, as a model to share with facilitators during training, as a development tool for observing facilitators and giving them structured feedback, there are plenty of options. Why not stick scores on it and pretend it’s hyper-accurate? The choice is yours. But it’s not a bad starter for ten to get those muscles flexing.