Lederman The Focus Group Interview

Lederman, L. (1990).  Assessing educational effectiveness:  The focus group interview as a technique for data collection.  Communication Education, 38 (pp.117-127).

  • "The technique involves the use of in-depth, group interviews in which participants are selected because they are a purposive, although not necessarily representative, sampling of a specific population (p. 117)."
  • "...homogeneity is an important prerequisite for meaningful exploration of the topic upon which the group is 'focused' (p. 117)."
  • "...the emphasis in the use of group interviews on their ability to generate data about the 'why' behind the behavior; the ability to ask the kinds of questions that surveys don't ask and that individual interviews, too, miss (p. 117)."

Underlying Assumptions

  • "The sine qua non of the focus group interview is the 'group-of-like-kind' context which creates the freedom to discuss thoughts, feelings and behaviors candidly. The central assumption on which the use of FGIs is based is the therapeutic assumption regarding openness and candor. Candor is permitted both because the members of the group understand and feel comfortable with one another, and also because they draw social strength from each other. The group provides support for its members to express anxiety-provoking or socially unpopular ideas (Goldman, 1962) (p. 118)."
  • There are 5 Fundamental Assumptions: (p. 118)
  1. "...people are a valuable source of information..."
  2. "...people can report on and about themselves...they are articulate enough to put into words their thoughts, feelings and behaviors..."
  3. "...people need help in 'mining' that information..." The interviewers job is to be the miner.
  4. "...the dynamics of the group can be used to surface genuine information rather than creating a 'group think' phenomenon..."
  5. "...the interview of the group is superior to the interview of an individual..."
  • The strengths and weaknesses of FGI are comparable to the strengths and weaknesses of interviews in general because they share the same subjects - people. The difference is that an interview has one person whereas a FGI has a group.
  • "The information they share with one another differs in quantity and quality because of their common bond (p. 119)."
  • "...the group provides a synergy which results in more than the sum total of what individuals alone could create. The group is 'focused' in on a topic of concern (p. 119)."

Advantages and Complexities Associated with Focus Group Interviews

  • The technique was created by Merton, Fiske, and Kendall in 1956.
  • "...the technique has been conceptualized as a kind of 'depth' interview designed to allow for deeper psychological reactions than interviews concerned only with a more superficial data collection (p. 119)."
  • "In FGIs, the group rather than the individual is interviewed. The group potentially provides a safe atmosphere, a context in which the synergy can generate more than the sum of individual inputs (p. 119)."
  • "The data generated in FGIs are often richer and deeper than data elicited in the one-on-one interview situation (p. 119)."
  • FGI are typically 1 1/2 - 2 hours in length and has 7-10 people. They generate more data in a shorter period of time.
  • "...focus group interviews allow researchers to observe groups in interaction with one another, thereby generating the interactive data which cannot be gathered in individual interviews (p. 120)."
  • "Candor is permitted not only because the members of the group understand and feel comfortable with one another but also because they draw social strength from each other (p. 120)."
  • Groups can affect each other in negative ways. For example, they can inhibit some individuals from speaking. Since the interviewer has the ability to intervene, a safety net is built into FGIs to prevent such mishaps and create an environment that is likely to produce rich data.

Implementation of the Technique: Assessment of Educational Effectiveness

  • "Participants are recreuited from the target population and then screened to assure that (1) they meet the criteria predetermined for the group and (2) that they are strangers to each other who can feel free to talk frankly during the interview session. When the researcher is interested in ideas from different populations, multiple groups are interviewed with people who are a sampling of each of the segment populations (p. 121)."
  • Design and Implementation of the Focus Group Interview Guide

    • "Generally guides include four elements: (1) an introduction which provides the purpose, ground rules and parameters; (2) an ice breaker or warm up set of questions (3) a series of questions designed to elicit all of the necessary information on the issues to be addressed; and (4) a summary or closing section (p. 122)."
  • Conduct of the Focus Group Interviews

    • "Although interviews are always tape recorded (video as well as audio where possible), nothing replaces an observant interviewer who uses his/her observations to help guide the discussion (p. 124)."
  • Analysis of the Data from the Focus Group Interviews

    • FGIs can be analyzed in a variety of ways using qualitative means such as coding data into predetermined categories, coding data and letting categories emerge, creating summary statements, or using some intensive analytic technique.
    • Tape recordings should be transcribed.
  • Presentation of the Findings of Interview Groups: Summary Reports

    • Summary reports are one way to present the findings from an FGI. Summary reports typically include 6 things. See paragraph to the right.
    • Summary reports include "...(1) a statement of purpose of the research; (2) a list of the research questions; (3) a list of the issues to be covered; (4) an explanation of the methodology; (5) step by step summaries of what was said by members of groups on each of the issues discussed, describing and explaining consensus as well as individual differences, the implications of the preliminary findings from those discussion(s) and the future directions of research based on what the focus group interview(s); and (6) specific and verbatim findings (p. 125)."
    • "It is the group in interaction with the interviewer which provides the basis for insights and interpretations which would not be present in paper and pencil data collections (p. 126)."

Utility: Using Focus Group Interviews to Assess Educational Effectiveness

  • "The focus group interview is a technique for talking in a purposeful way with a select group of interviewees in order to gain insight into educational effectiveness (p. 127)."