Focus group is a unique qualitative research methodintroduced by Emory Bogardus in early 1926.
The core aim of this socialpsychologist was to develop a method that will offer a way to listen to peopleand learn from them. Over the past years, focus groups have been utilized bycommunity health workers, Marxist revolutionaries, feminist activists andsocial activists in advancing their causes and concerns (Wilkinson, 2004). Manysocial science researchers go for focus group methods due to its ability tooffer quick results with a dependable generation of complex information at alow cost within a less time. Furthermore, they have a collective nature thatsuits people who are unable to articulate their experiences thereby providing acollective power to marginalized members of the community such as women and theyouth (Morgan, 2009). Due to its foundational involvement in social sciences, thispaper explores the advantages and disadvantages of focus group whilehighlighting the most appropriate context where it could be used in communitywork and youth.
TheNature and Context of the Focus Group MethodAccording to Williams, Clausen, Robertson, Peacock& McPherson (2012), at its lowest levels, a focus group may be described asan informal discussion among a selected group of individuals about a specifictheme. For example, a group of youths in a community social hall involved in adiscussion on the effects of gambling, women waiting for a health care providerto discuss the contraceptives as a family planning option. From a communityperspective, good examples include a group of community members gathered in a schoolfield and discussing the impacts of alcoholism in their families. As seen inabove examples, group focus is a collective conversation that may include smallor large groups of people and arranged to evaluate specific sets ofcommunity-influencing topics (Williams, Clausen, Robertson, Peacock &McPherson, 2012). As highlighted by Krueger & Casey (2000), the primarygoal of a focus group is to describe the meaning of a specific group ofindividuals and to gain an understanding of a specific inflicting issue fromtheir perspective.
However, it important highlighting that focus groups do notaim at reaching a consensus on the disused subjects, they only encouragediverse responses that offer a better understanding of perceptions, opinions,attitudes, and behavior of the involved participants in relation to the specificresearch issues (Krueger & Casey, 2000).Practically, focus groups research method shifts thecontrol of interaction form the researcher into the hands of the communitymembers or participants. The interaction between the involved memberssubstitutes the interaction between the moderator and the participants henceoffering a good platform for understanding the viewpoints and perception of thecommunity hence providing a societal voice to the voiceless. In so doing, thefocus group methodology reflects aa useful strategy for examining and exploringwhat community members think, why they think they way they do, how they do itand their expectation. This is achieved without coercing them into reaching aconsensus of making tough decisions. In that way, a focus group is regarded asthe ideal approach for examining and examining points of view, beliefs,community stories and concerns of people in a given setup.
Advantages of Focus GroupSocially-orientedFocus groups are socially-orientated researchmethod. According to Wilkinson (2004), focus groups help in capturing real-lifeinformation from a social setting hence giving the moderator a betteropportunity to understand the community needs and vulnerabilities. Theintercommunication between members in the group provides an overview of thereal issues in the society (Wilkinson, 2004). For example, if the topic is oncrime, the community members are willing to highlight different areas in thecommunity that are prone to crimes while offering examples of incidents thathave happened in the past. In real life situations, focus groups helped socialworkers in unearthing youth criminal activities in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
The research proved that unemployment and high school dropouts were the primarycatalysts of crime among the youths. Crime is a social problem that should beapproached through a socially-oriented research approach such as focus groups.HighvalidityRedmond & Curtis (2009) highlights that focusgroups have high face validity. This implies that they are accurate inmeasuring what they are intended to evaluate. Focus group enables the researchto gain insight on a wider array of views regarding the people and the specifictopic. Furthermore, the moderator has an opportunity to assess how thecommunity members are handling the issue at hand. For example, there has beencontroversy on impacts of contraceptives and family planning pills on thehealth of women. Therefore, community health workers may hold focus groups tounderstand how both women and men in the society perceive the family planningstrategy (Redmond & Curtis, 2009).
In this exercise, researchers areoffered with rich and detailed information about the impression, thoughts,feelings, perceptions, and understanding of people on the specific issue. Theinteraction provides accuracy in the information and concerns being evaluated.Flexibleand Quick ResultsFocus groups provide researchers with the ability toevaluate why community members hold certain views in regard to a particulartopic. Additionally, it creates a ground for comparing diverse views held bycommunity members. For example, if the community is affected by youth crime,some may suggest that placement of a police patrol station in the area would lowerthe vices. However, another group in the same gathering may feel that presenceof police will escalate the issue and many youths will be incarcerated for nogood reason. The flexibility of tilting perception to have a good understandingof the core problem makes focus group method an important choice when it comesto dealing with social science topics.
Major problems in research originate from scenarioswhere the conducted exploration cannot feel the gap in the study group. However,focus groups have the ability to explore the gap between what the communitymembers say and what they do. From a community perspective, a social researchmay intend to survey the effects of placing a sugarcane processing plant in agiven area in the community. However, due to environmental and health effects associatedwith air pollution, the society may be against it.
Nevertheless, with focusgroup methodology, the researchers are given the nitty gritty of why thecommunity is opposing the project. For example, issues related to skin itching,skin cancer or respiratory difficulties may originate from the plan wastematerials hence resulting in more social problems such as disability anddependence. For that, focus groups provide quick results without taking cornerson social related issues hence boosting faster reactions from policymakers. Lessexpensive in terms of money and timeAccording to Morgan (2009), focus groups allowdiverse lines of communication among involved participants that entirely savetime and money for the researcher. Many people find face-to-face or one-on-oneinteraction scary and intimidating, however, focus group creates a safeenvironment where such people can confidently share their beliefs, perceptions,ideas, and attitudes in the face of other people. Short time is used ininteracting with a large group of people hence lowering the costs that would beincurred in interviewing or interacting with everyone one individual at a time.The foundational platform of the focus group is an idea for individuals fromethnic minority groups that may feel intimated by race, ethnicity or voicelessnature in the community (Morgan, 2009).
To that end, the inclusivity of focusgroup research method reveals information and ideas that the moderator or theresearcher would have missed from individual interviews.Disadvantages of Focus GroupsLessControl by the ModeratorIn focus groups, the researcher has less or nocontrol over the discussion. Once the discussion is stated, community memberstake up the control and drive the conversation to their wish. The activity mutesthe position of the moderator as the connection between the participants isinfluenced social cues that are well-known to them. For example, if youths aretalking about ghetto crime, they may use a language or body expressions thatmake it had for the researcher to control the discussion. Difficultyin Data AnalysisAs seen above, focus groups are created byindividuals who originate in the same environment. Therefore, their expressionof data and some ideas may be difficult for the research to interpret andanalyze.
For example, some language cues may have diverse meaning in differentsocieties; therefore, one interpretation may mean a completely different thingin another community. For example, some communities perceive family planningcontraceptives as fertility blockage pills to their women. Others perceive themas unethical actions against God’s reproduction ability. Finally, healthpractitioners see it as a way of controlling population based on social issuesin the affected family. Thus, the indifferent styles of delivering ideas makeit difficult for the research to analyze the information and make effectivereports.
Krueger & Casey (2000) presents that focusgroups are not effective on some research topics. For example, topics thattouch on too personal topics such as financial status, domestic violence,infertility, sexuality and HIV/AIDS may be difficult to analyze using thismethod. People are reluctant in expressing opinions or even discussing topicsthat touch on personal issues and experiences in front of other communitymembers. For that reason, focus groups may get ineffective in studying in-depthtopics such personal experiences with illness or infertility before a group ofother colleagues. In this context, group dynamics take a position indetermining the free flow of information between the members (Krueger , 2000). For example, if dealing with a women alone group, there is a highpossibility of information flow being achieved without barriers as opposed toinvolving a gender missed discussion group. ShallowUnderstanding of Personal IssuesWilliams, Clausen, Robertson, Peacock (2012) argues that focus groups are criticized for providing ashallow conception of personal issues when compared with other methods such asindividual interviews.
As noted above, personal experiences and experiences maynot be exposed during focus group discussion; however, if the same is tried inindividual interviews, a respondent will be free to share personal experiences (Williams,Clausen, Robertson, Peacock & McPherson, 2012). For example, a qualitativestudy on the life and experiences of Muslim youths in the United States provedthat individual interviews were more effective than focus group discussions.The core reason was based on the fact that participants were capable ofexpressing their emotional experiences as far as racial segregation isconcerned.
However, in the focus group discussion, most of them were notcomfortable as some members were more likely to create a chain of rumors fromthe ideas dispersed by one community member. Intimidationof MembersFocus groups may be created from diversepersonality, race, and status in the society. However, the presence ofauthoritative bodies or aggressive personalities may negatively influence theexpression of other group members. Additionally, the social context of the involvedfocus group may have a significant influence on the issues related to socialconformity, desirability, and disclosure of some community secrets.
Similarly,the presence of some group members may make some members too intimidated tospeak. For example, having a friend of a local chief or police officer in thegroup may affect the ability of youths to unleash the truths about criminalactivities in the society. For that reason, the quality of data or informationacquired from focus group discussion is negatively affected by the context andcharacteristic of the focus group members. ConclusionDespite the criticism explored with regard to focusgroup, a social cost-benefit analysis proves that they are more effective inunderstanding the thoughts, the perception, beliefs, practices, and norms ofthe community.
Consequently, the research is given the opportunity to generateevidence-based interventions and recommendations that have the ability to solvethe social vices experienced by the group. Therefore, social workers, communityhealth workers, and government social league departments should consider focusgroup methodology as an effective option in examining and understanding theircommunities.