(Morgan; McCleary & Gonzalez) Focus Groups [Donna]

Morgan, D. L. (1988). Focus groups as qualitative research. Newbury Park, Calif: Sage Publications.

In his book, Morgan defines focus groups as a “research technique that collects data through group interaction on a topic determined by the researcher.” (p.6) Focus groups can be used as a supplementary tool where the groups serve as a source of preliminary data for a primarily quantitative study or they can be used as to provide follow-up data to assist with a primary method (i.e. greater understanding of poorly understood survey results). Focus groups may also be used as a self-contained method where the focus group is the primary means of collecting data in a qualitative study. This type of study leads to an emphasis on the design of the research. When conducting a multi-method research study, focus groups add to the data from other qualitative methods, for instance if conducting an ethnography, the researcher would simply add focus groups as an additional method of collecting the data, say in addition to individual interviews.

Further, Morgan outlines the steps necessary in creating, implementing and documenting focus groups. There are several stages to consider when planning focus groups.

The planning stage.

  • Research design (what type of study, what research tools are used, etc)
  • Types of participants (description of participants – age, ethnicity, role, job, etc.)
  • Level of structure (formal to informal)
  • Size of groups (it is recommended that groups be 8-10 people)
  • Number of groups (how many groups are needed to get a representation of the research project)

The next stage is conducting and analyzing groups.

  • Interview content (what questions will be asked, in what order, will there be follow-up questions)
  • Moderator (who will facilitate the focus groups, how much training have they had, will there be an extra researcher who participates)
  • Site to conduct focus groups (where will the focus groups take place and why)
  • Data collection (how will the data be collected, will they be video taped or audio taped, will there be a scribe to record the information)
  • Analysis and reporting (who will be reviewing the collected data, how will they be analyzing it and how will it be reported [in graphs, narrative, both])

Other possibilities to consider that may affect the discussions.

  • Effects of group composition (do they already know each other, are the representative of the overall population, etc)
  • Changes within the group over time (most focus groups are only for a one-time 2 hour session but occasionally there will be focus groups conducted with the same group over several months, if the make-up of the group changes during this time period, how does that impact the group)
  • Changes in groups (do new groups need to be added or does a particular group need to be discarded)

McCleary & Gonzalez (2009) Community Needs Assessment: Arvin, Lamont, and Weedpatch, CA

This study is an example of the use of focus groups to assist in a mixed methods study. The purpose of the research project was to provide the Delores Huerta Foundation with a community needs assessment that would identify the health, psychosocial service and access needs of the identified communities. Phase I of the study consisted of a survey of households in these communities. The survey collected descriptive data from the communities. Additionally, 300 face to face interviews were conducted (100 from each community). Phase II consisted of a series of focus groups to validate and prioritize findings. The collected information will be used by the Foundation to plan interventions for these communities.


  1. Are you considering the use of focus groups in your evaluation project for Dr. Wise or in your dissertation? Why or Why not
  2. Have you ever conducted or participated in a focus group. Please share your reflection of that experience.
  3. If you were the moderator of a focus group, what do you think would be the most difficult part of the job?
  4. What type of research studies do you think focus groups would be most useful for? Why?
  5. If you have already read a dissertation for this class to summarize did it include focus groups? Do you think the study would have benefited from having focus groups?
  6. What do you think is the most important consideration when conducting focus groups?

Watch this short interview of Morgan (the author) to see what he considers the most important consideration when conducting focus groups.

One thought on “(Morgan; McCleary & Gonzalez) Focus Groups [Donna]

  1. The sheer number of stakeholders we needed input from, coupled with their limited availability, made the focus group an indispensable tool for our evaluation. We were able to use a set of carefully refined semi-structured questions from previous interviews with individual stakeholders to quickly hone in on high leverage points. In a matter of an hour and a half, with the focus group doing most of the talking, we were able to obtain more information than we had gained over a month of our own independent research. Despite the obvious merit of this tool, I’m thinking of pursuing a quantitative study for my dissertation.

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