Online and traditional focus groups.
Focus groups are a method of group interviewing in which the interaction between the moderator and the group, as well as the interaction between group members, serves to elicit information and insights in response to carefully designed questions. The dynamic nature of the questions asked by the moderator and the group process, produces a level of insight that is rarely derived from 'unidirectional' information collection devises such as observation, surveys and less interactional interview techniques. Methods of recording and analyzing information gathered during focus groups, and strategies for collecting unbiased information have helped focus group research to gain credibility as an accurate and useful source of information collection. Focus group methods gained popularity in marketing research. In the 1980s social scientists recognized the value of focus groups for qualitative research and adapted the techniques accordingly. In the 1990s focus group strategies have become widely researched and used in social sciences and human service organizations. Focus groups, like any other program evaluation method, are more appropriate for some situations than others. Morgan & Krueger (1993) discuss instances when focus groups are beneficial: When the security provided by the group allows members who are lower in the 'power hierarchy' within an organization to express feelings and experiences that they would not otherwise share. When the target audience is so different from decision makers that different terminology and points of view can be illuminated and understood (this information can be useful when constructing questionnaires for those audiences). When desired information about behaviors and motivations is more complex than a questionnaire is likely to reveal. Through a series of well designed questions, focus groups can often get at more honest and in depth information. When one is interested in finding out the nature of consensus. While several respondents completing a questionnaire may indicate that they 'agree' with an item, focus groups may reveal fundamental differences among group members concerning the conditions of that agreement. When target audiences may not take questionnaires seriously or answer them honestly. Effective focus groups will communicate a desire to obtain meaningful, honest information. Superficial or patronizing responses as well as critical responses can be challenged and or put into an appropriate context.In situations where there is organizational conflict and or alienation, members of focus groups and their constituencies may feel 'listened to'. This may result in an honest and meaningful exchange of information. Advantages and Disadvantages of Focus Groups:
The decision of whether to use focus groups for a given evaluation project depends on the strengths and limitations of focus groups in contrast to other evaluation techniques. Below, are three ways of collecting information for program evaluation and how the process and results might differ from focus groups. 1) Naturalistic observation has some advantages over focus groups. Focus groups are conducted in an unnatural social setting. The presence and direction of the moderator may influence responses that might be different in a more natural setting. While naturalistic observation allows for observation of a broader range of information and potentially a more open discussion, focus groups set an agenda and use questioning strategies that influence the group process. 2) Individual interviews are more efficient that focus groups and interviewers are typically able to cover more ground interviewing one person versus a group. While focus groups may actually get at less information that a one hour individual interview, the dynamic interchange between the group members may result in more in depth and unbiased information concerning a particular topic. A potential weakness of...
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