How do you extract useful information from a group of people in connection with your research? One of the tools used is focus group discussion. Read on to find out how this is done.
If you engage in social research or study research methodologies, one of the common (sometimes abused) methods of data collection that you should be familiar with is focus group discussion or FGD. Aside from soliciting ideas that will help answer or narrow down your research topic, the output of the discussion verifies or confirms the results of surveys designed to answer research questions that you are interested in (see Triangulation).
What is focus group discussion, when do you use it and how should you conduct it? What good practices should be observed? This article provides answers to these questions.
Definition of Focus Group Discussion
Sometimes, FGD is also called focused group discussion because the discussion focuses on questions that seek multi-stakeholder response. It may also refer to the ‘focus group,’ that is, those who are found relevant to take part in tackling the issues raised by the researcher.
Essentially, FGD is a discussion of issues and concerns between a selected group of four to eight people. It serves as a venue to confirm and verify the participants’ viewpoints and draw out their experiences so that they are able to build a consensus about the research topic. A well-trained moderator guides the progress of the discussion using a set of questions prepared by the researcher.
How are the Participants of FGD Selected?
The participants of the FGD are selected using a set of guidelines or criterion such that the participants are able to give useful or relevant information to meet the objectives of the study. This requires familiarity with the background of the participants. It is, therefore, common practice that managers, leaders of the community or those who have lived in the community for a while or someone familiar with the business of an organization are consulted before conducting an FGD.
For example, in a study on coastal resource use, if the issue relates to dynamite fishing in the coral reefs, the participants to look for include representatives from the groups of fishers, fish traders, former dynamite fishers, law enforcers, explosives suppliers, local policy makers, non-government organizations or associations, among others who have direct or indirect transactions in the community. Avoid bias in the selection of participants such as including only those who are accessible or favoring a certain political group.
Example FGD Questions
Examples of questions that relate to illegal fishing in the coral reefs that will serve as the focus of the FGD are the following:
- What are the target fish species of the illegal fishers?
- How do the illegal fishers get their explosives?
- How much do the dynamite fishers earn from their activity?
- Why do the dynamite fishers engage in this illegal activity despite prohibition?
- What are the risks associated with dynamite fishing?
- At what time of the day and how frequent do the dynamite fishers go out to fish?
- Where are the dynamite fishers coming from?
Of course, the questions will ultimately depend on what information you would like to draw out from the participants. The FGD enables you to explore which variables you will include and focus the quantitative (if ever) part of your study.
You might want to relate fisher income with frequency of dynamite fishing. Or you might want to quantify the costs and benefits of dynamite fishing (taking the point of view of the fisher). The end justifies the means, so they say.
How to Conduct the FGD
The following are needed resources to conduct a focus group discussion.
- A trained moderator or facilitator. The moderator may not necessarily be the researcher himself but someone familiar with the issues to be discussed. Hence, he should confer with researcher before conducting the FGD process. He should have a good background knowledge of the participants and must not involve himself in the discussion, such as arguing with the participants. His main role is to introduce and explain the questions, clarify issues raised, confirm responses, encourage expression of ideas, among other related functions. He summarizes the process at the end of the discussion.
- A note taker. The note taker records the progress of the FGD. He does not only list the oral expression of ideas of the participants but also their actuations or non-verbal expressions. He clarifies points once in while by getting the moderator’s attention on points that are not clear. He furnishes a copy of the transcripts to the participants as a matter of transparency.
The quality of information gathered through the FGD depends to a large extent on the skill and keenness of the moderator and the note taker. For best results, rapport between the researcher’s group and the participants should be made such that the participants will not inhibit themselves from freely expressing their ideas.
The following materials should be made available during the conduct of the FGD:
- Recording material. The standard note pad and pencil or pen must always be available. Although laptops, tablets, cameras, MPEG recorder, oranything electronic will work in an urban environment, a different situation exists in FGDs conducted in far-flung areas. Although these gadgets may be used to record data in the field, these are prone to many problems such as low batteries, broken during the trip, got submerged and damaged while wading a river, among others. If electronic data recording equipment is really desired, then these should be weather and/or shock resistant.
- Group memory. Group memory is something that the participants can refer to as the discussion takes place. The participants focus their attention towards this attention-getting list of questions and responses. This could be a set of Manila paper with pre-written questions, a whiteboard or blackboard, or a mini-projector if you may.
- Attendance sheet. If you do research for somebody (say as a consultant) or in compliance with your thesis requirement, you need this because it serves as evidence that you really did the FGD. This will also help you find your respondents if you will need to go back and clarify points.
- Global Positioning System (GPS). This will aid you in locating the place where you did the FGD. This is good information to those who would like to make a follow-up study in a similar place.
The information derived from the FGD, aside from fulfilling an academic requirement, is useful in policy making and management. It can lead to agreement on certain controversial issues and evaluation of program or project accomplishments in the target community.
International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (1998). Participatory methods in community-based coastal resource management.
© 2013 August 14 P. A. Regoniel