The focus group is an effective research tool that is adept at uncovering the true thoughts and emotions of group participants. The interviewer is afforded the opportunity to record both the verbal and non-verbal communications within the interview process, which often provides a clearer understanding of people’s intimate thoughts and perceptions. Focus groups as a qualitative methodology comes from the field of marketing, and communication research. The focus group is a common research methodology in the IT sector, particularly in the area of user experience (UX) in software design, where the research data requires information on how people feel or think about usability. The complexity of behaviour and motivation are intrinsic to the research question regarding the role of gamification in e-Therapy, and focus groups provides access to these forces. The group interaction unfolds in the presence of the researcher, and this allows for any follow up questions to be created on the spot. Focus groups allow for information to be gathered on the research question, which would be considerably more difficult in structured interviews, or by means of surveys. In addition, both the range and intensity of opinions on how this phenomenon affects the participants is critical to the research question, and focus groups allows this data to be qualitatively measured.
The focus group is a form of organized group interview consisting of individuals who have a homogenous background, where a focus group moderator records the communication between research participants, in order to generate data. This form of research requires a highly specific group sample, and this is created through purpose, size, procedure, and composition methodologies. The group is “focused” on a collective activity, and the interaction between participants is the method used to gather the research data. The main aim of this type of research is to explore the participants’ knowledge, and points of view, to find out not only what they think, but also why they think as they do.
The purpose of a focus group is to allow the participants to present issues from different perspectives, allowing for elaboration of views and values, which would not be possible in a one-to-one interview process. The purpose of the interviewer in a focus group is to listen, and gather information, using a discussion guide that constitutes the outline of the major questions that will be asked in the group. By means of a series of open-ended questions, the interviewer can facilitate a discussion on the participants points of view, which if successful will provide data, rich in unique interpersonal vocabulary, participant generated content, and priorities.
Since the focus group is both situational and interactive, the best form of guided interview technique to utilize is the semi-structured interview, where a group can be guided through a particular set of topics. This method of research works best when the participants and the researcher are tailor-making situational information on the spot, by frequently taking the research in new and often unexpected directions, and thereby producing richer and more complex data. Interpersonal communication at this level produces responses that tap into different day-to-day communication styles, with interaction frequently including humour, anecdotes, dissent, antagonism, and consensus. Shared knowledge, and group cultural norms and values can be detected within the focus group methodology, due to the interactive nature of the data collection techniques. The negative aspects of this method of research is that individuals may conceal dissent out of loyalty to the group norms, and the presence of a group of participants compromises confidentiality.
The research sample population, refers to the selection of individuals to be studied, and must be defined. The individuals that are to be analysed are referred to as the population, and the participants in the study; a subset of this population, are referred to as the sample. Unlike sampling for quantitative research, where random sampling is the norm, population sampling for qualitative research requires participants that have characteristics common to the larger population that are relevant to the research question, and will provide the most appropriate information. Grouping particular types of individuals in focus groups with common criteria, relevant to the research, is recommended. If the research is to be conducted with different “types” of participants, then It would be most appropriate to conduct focus groups separately for each group.
Although definable objective criteria such as age, education, religion, age, or constructed criteria such as behaviour or political affiliation, can be employed in sample selection, the most common methodologies for selecting focus group participants are referred to as purposive, and convenience. In essence, the sample population that will provide the best information, is the preferred sample choice in focus group research. The recommendations for group size vary, but fall within the range of 4 to 12 participants, this range being considered an optimum number, to allow the facilitator to keep the group focused on the research tasks. The number of focus groups required for the study will be determined by when the data saturation point has been achieved; when no new information is being recorded, then no more group sessions are required. Practice group sessions are recommended, particularly when the researcher is unfamiliar with focus group protocols. In order to compare and contrast the views of different individuals, the group structure must consist of separate groups.
The recommended interview protocol, begins with an opening introduction by the facilitator, followed by a description of the focus group topic, and the aims of the research. Participants are invited to ask questions prior to the interview commencing, which will be answered by the facilitator. The rules of the focus group are then outlined, including turning off mobile phones, one person speaking at a time, without interruption, and a reminder that all information is confidential, and will be summarized for analysis. Participants should be informed that they may be interrupted by the facilitator, in order to ensure as much participation by all the group as possible. All participants are invited to introduce themselves, and if they wish to add any additional information they feel is relevant to the interview. Then as each question is being asked, a prompting question to promote further questions and a probing question to examine an issue in greater depth is included. When the discussion related to the final question is finished, the facilitator concludes the interview by thanking each of the participants.
Materials required for focus group interviews:
- Focus group questions
- Focus group protocol
- Sign-in sheet
- Participant consent forms
- Large screen Monitor
- Web connection
- Digital audio recorder
- Name tags
Becoming familiar with the community you will ask questions of during focus groups is essential. Learning local terms, and how groups behave within that community, are essential in both developing interview questions, and for analysis of the focus group data. The participants are the experts, and the primary goal is to obtain their beliefs, opinions, and attitudes, so questions must be semi-structured, open-ended, and probing, to encourage lengthy answers. Approximately five interview questions is recommended, with prompting follow-up questions to facilitate interaction, and probing questions to delve deeper into questions.
Prior to conducting the focus group interviews, questions must be pilot tested with individuals that have similar characteristics as the sample populations in the focus groups. Pre-testing interview questions allows the researcher to assess if the interview questions are understood as they were meant to be, and to make any necessary edits to both composition, and question order.