A focus group is an informal assembly of users whose opinions
are requested about a specific topic. The goal is to elicit
perceptions, feelings, attitudes, and ideas of participants
about the topic. Focus groups are not generally appropriate
Individuals come together and express diverse views on the
topic: useful not only to find the range of views, but also
for the participants to learn from each other, and to generate
a sense of social cohesion.
The moderator should prepare a script or list of issues which
need to be tackled. It is wise not to be too prescriptive,
to allow spontaneity in the group. A focus group session should
feel free-flowing and relatively unstructured. Focus groups
often bring out users spontaneous reactions and ideas through
the interaction between the participants. Meetings should
last between 1 to 2 hours.
Try to avoid selecting all the participants from the same
department or neighbourhood. Diversity is useful. Usually
about 6 to 12 users participate in any one focus group meeting
session. A programme of focus group sessions may be planned
to cover a wide range of responses.
A selection of users should be individually invited to each
focus group session. The invitation should explain that this
is to a focus group, and if necessary, a few words about what
will be discussed and what the format of a focus group meeting
is. Hospitality may be offered (e.g. tea or coffee).
A video, a short demonstration, or putting on the table examples
of artifacts relevant to the focus group topic may be used
to start the discussion.
The session should be run by an experienced moderator who
is responsible for maintaining the focus of the group on the
issues of interest to the addressees of the focus group results.
Moderators can gain experience from participating as delegates
in other focus groups: no amount of reading is a substitute
It is usual to spend a few minutes of introduction time,
going round the table. Participants may be given name tags
or desk labels to assist in identifying who is who.
The purpose of focus groups is not consensus building - rather,
it is to obtain a range of opinions from a representative
set of target users about issues to hand. Each user's point
of view is of interest and it is the moderator's task to encourage
each user to express their unique points of view.
The end of a focus group may be wound up with a slight hint
of formality, and the participants should be thanked for their
time and showing their interest.
Focus groups are mainly designed to obtain people's opinions
and not to determine the exact strength of their opinions.
Notice that focus group interviews do not generate quantitative
information and the results strictly speaking should not be
generalized or "projected" to a larger population although
in fact they often are - hence the use of a programme of focus
The results of focus groups can be used as a basis for generating
hypotheses for further evaluation and user validation using
both qualitative and quantitative methods, e.g. the results
can assist in the development of questionnaires, surveys,
and items for tests by identifying response categories and
constructs that evaluators might not have otherwise considered.
Focus groups can make questionnaires and other evaluation
methods more language sensitive, because vocabulary that is
common to the users can be discerned in the focus group interview
and then incorporated into the measure.
Focus groups are not generally appropriate for evaluation
Other methods of collecting information from users include
observation, survey questionnaires,
or user participation in context of
use analysis or brainstorming.
A focus group should lead to either a wider data collection
exercise, such as a mass-mailed survey,
or to a more intensive analysis of the problem in hand, for
instance by card sort or affinity
diagramming. It may also lead to early prototyping
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Vaughn, S., Schumm, J.S., & Sinagub, J. (1996). Focus
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CA: SAGE Publications.
Caplan, S. (1990). Using focus groups methodology for ergonomic
design. Ergonomics 33(5), 527-533.