When Are Focus Groups Appropriate?
Consider using a focus group when you are seeking a comprehensive overview of a complex topic – such as how an organization such as a school system implements IPM. If, in previous experience, the target audience doesn’t respond well to questionnaires, a focus group may be a way to get their honest opinions. If your goal is to gather specific data (for example, what practices or control measures are currently being used), consider using surveys, which are fielded to a much larger audience, or another evaluation method.
- Focus groups may be less expensive to conduct than surveys.
- Focus groups can reveal in-depth information about behaviors or attitudes.
- Focus groups can capture real-world group dynamics and reveal the extent of consensus within a group.
- Focus groups can stimulate brain-storming which can yield richer responses.
- Focus groups can expose stakeholders to what others have to say.
- Focus groups can capture a good deal of information within a short turnaround time.
Examples of successful focus groups in Extension can be found in agriculture, 4-H youth development, and family and consumer sciences.
- Archer, T. M. (1993). Focus groups for kids. Journal of Extension, [On-line], 31(1).
- Duncan, S., & Marotz-Baden, R. (1999). Using focus groups to identify rural participant needs in balancing work and family education. Journal of Extension, [On-line], 37(1).
- Gamon, J. A. (1992). Focus groups: A needs assessment tool. Journal of Extension, [On-line], 30(1).
- Holz-Clause, M., & Jost, M. (1995). Using focus groups to check youth perceptions of agriculture. Journal of Extension, [On-line], 33(3).
- Marczak M, Sewell M. Using Focus Groups for Evaluation. University of Arizona.
- Nordstrom, P. A., Wilson, L. L., Kelsey, T. W., Maretzki, A. N., & Pitts, C. W. (2000). The use of focus group interviews to evaluate agriculture educational materials for students, teachers, and consumers. Journal of Extension, [On-line],38(5).
- The moderator may influence responses.
- The setting is controlled (artificial) and may affect responses.
- Focus groups are not recommended for sensitive topics.
- Focus groups are not recommended when in-depth information about individual behavior is sought.
- Focus groups cannot provide information that you can apply generally to other groups of people.
At times, the results of the focus group can be unclear or surprising.
- Allen, B. L., Grudens-Schuck, N., & Larson, K. (2004). Good intentions, muddled results: Focus on focus groups. Journal of Extension [On-line], 42(4) Article 4TOT1.
- Baker, R., & Hinton, R. (1999). Do focus groups facilitate meaningful participation in social research In (Eds.) Barbour, R. S., & Kitzinger, J. Developing focus group research: Politics, theory and practice. pp 79-98.