When to Use Focus Groups
Insights are needed in exploratory or preliminary studies.
This could occur at the beginning of a larger-scale research effort or when the study has a limited scope or limited resources. The goal might be to gain reactions to areas needing improvement or general guidelines on how an intervention might operate.
There is a communication or understanding gap between groups or categories of people.
This gap has a tendency to occur between groups who have power and others who do not. Professional groups (medical, educational, scientific, technical, business, legal) are facing a crisis due to communication gaps caused by language and logic. Professionals have developed unique ways of thinking that are substantially different from the very people they are trying to reach.
The purpose is to uncover factors relating to complex behavior or motivation.
Focus groups can provide insight into complicated topics where opinions or attitudes are conditional or where the area of concern relates to multifaceted behavior or motivation.
You desire ideas to emerge from the group.
Groups possess the capacity to become more than the sum of their parts, to exhibit a synergy that individuals alone cannot possess.
The researcher needs additional information to prepare for a large-scale study.
Focus groups have provided researchers with valuable insights into conducting complicated and often quantifiable investigations.
The clients or intended audience places high value on capturing the open-ended comments of your target audience.
The environment is emotionally charged and more information of any type is likely to intensify the conflict.
This is likely to occur in situations where the issues are polarized, trust has deteriorated and the participants are in a confrontational attitude.
The researcher has lost control over critical aspects of the study.
When control is relinquished to other individuals or groups, the study is prone to manipulation and bias. The researcher should maintain control over such critical aspects as participant selection, question development and analysis protocol.
You need statistical projections.
Focus groups do not involve sufficient numbers of participants nor does the sampling strategy lend itself to statistical projections.
Other methodologies can produce either better quality information or more economical information of the same quality.
You cannot ensure the confidentiality of sensitive information.
Adapted From: Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research (3rd Ed.), by Richard A. Krueger and Mary Anne Casey.