Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The top 9 focus group tips

Have you ever wondered how evaluation specialists are so good at their job? Well, Richard Krueger (focus group expert) shared some great tips that make his focus groups so successful. It was hard to narrow down the dozens of tips and nuggets of information I learned at the MESI pre-conference Focus Group session, but here are the top 9 I wanted to share:

1. Recruitment is most time consuming and most important. If you get the wrong people to attend, the feedback and results will not be accurate. Make sure to identify a specific group or community- focus groups are not supposed to be randomized.

2. Get people to show up. If people don't show up, you can't have a focus group. One of the best ways to get people to show up is to have someone special or important call or visit them in-person to ask them to participate. Normally this is delegated to an assistant or secretary, don't do this. The best way to get people to participate is to have the Executive Director or Program Director call and ask them to participate. Also, don't forget a phone call reminder the day before the group. Also, have meaningful incentives.

3. The environment can make or break your focus group. Whether people feel comfortable and at ease will determine whether they feel they can talk openly. Make sure to seat them in a circle, and if possible, provide food. Allow them some time (a few minutes) in the beginning to make small talk among each other.

4. Don't invite questions in the introduction. You could end up getting asked something awkward that ruins the "mood", for example someone may ask what other focus group participants have said. The honest answer is you don't want to tell them, but you can't really say that. The best way to avoid this is to avoid asking if anyone has questions in the introduction. You can see if people have questions when you welcome them, individually and one-on-one.

5. The first question is key. It needs to put people at ease and make them feel comfortable with each other. Start the group with a friendly, easy question like "If you won a two-week all-expenses paid vacation, what would you do?" or "What is your favorite food, and where do you go to get it?"

6. Questions need to be asked in the right order. You should start with the broad, more general questions and gradually get more specific, ending with the most important questions. This is important because the first questions help trigger their memory of the subject of your group, and will help them in their answers later on.

7. Make sure to summarize key points at end. Take the 4 or 5 key points and repeat them back to the group. Ask them if you got it right. This will help you ensure you get it right in your analysis.

8. How something is analyzed can change its meaning. So, make sure to analyze carefully. The person that transcribes should have attended the focus group, that way they know whether someone was being sarcastic or ironic. Also, body language can say a lot. When transcribing use the participants first name (not last name-confidentiality), that way you know if the same person is telling your program is bad, or is everyone is saying it.

9. Report back to community. Say you ask a community to participate in your study, and they agree. They tell you their thoughts and suggestions for your program. Then, you never talk to them again. They are going to think you didn't value their input and that you are not doing anything about what they said. Even if you aren't doing anything, at least let them know you are looking into it or researching it more. If you are, let them know what you are doing. Also, a thank you to participants from the Executive Director can go a long way.