A focused discussion where a moderator leads a group of participants through a set of questions on a particular topic. Focus groups are often used in the early stages of product planning and requirements gathering to obtain feedback about users, products, concepts, prototypes , tasks, strategies, and environments. Focus groups can also be used to obtain consensus about specific issues.
Focus group interviews had their origins in the work of social scientists in the 1930s and 1940s. Robert Merton, a prominent social scientist, used group interviewing to evaluate audience reactions to radio programs and to analyze World War II training and morale films. The term "focus group" is thought to have been coined by Merton in 1956 (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994, p. 365).
Denzin, N.K., & Lincoln, Y.S. (1994). Handbook of qualitative research. London: Sage.
Greenbaum, T. (1993). The handbook for focus group research (Revised edition). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Krueger, R. A. & Mary Anne Casey (2000). Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research. 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Kuniavsky, M. (2003). Observing the user experience. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.
Morgan, D. L. (1998). The focus group guidebook. Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Morgan, D. L. (1998). Planning focus groups. Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Focus groups can be used to:
To gather more detailed data, participants can spend part of the focus group working with a prototype. After participants have worked with the prototype, they can come together and discuss their reactions to the prototype.
Remote focus groups can be used when participants cannot be brought together at the same location.
Outcomes and Deliverables
The outcomes and deliverables from a focus group include:
Benefits, Advantages and Disadvantages
The general steps for the focus group methods are:
Participants and Other Stakeholders
The people involved in focus groups include:
You may want to hold 3-4 focus groups so your results are not the results of the particular dynamics of a single group. If there are distinct subgroups, you may want to run a set of focus groups with each subgroup.
Who Can Facilitate
Moderators with experience and strong interviewing skills are critical to the success of a focus group. Some of the attributes of a good moderator are:
Data Analysis Approach
Post-session Review Notes
Immediately after a focus group session, the moderator should walk through the guide and review the trends, questions and comments for each topic Consider listing the major issues that emerge.
Editing and Tabulation of Data
Doing a quick review of the notes and any participant response forms soon after a session to look for moderator or participant errors. Videotapes can be consulted if the notes are unclear and questionnaires can be reviewed for obvious inconsistencies.
There are two major types of data coding, quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative codes can come from closed questions or exercise data. After coding, questionnaire and other data that can be tabulated into summary tables showing frequencies, percentages, and other descriptive statistics.
Qualitative data come from open-ended questions and the dialog between moderator and participants. Setting up codes and categories for open-ended and verbal data begins with the transcription of all the open-ended and verbal data. As data are transcribed, the analysis team (often the moderator) will categorize responses into trends, issues, and topics. Some common categories in HCI include (Kuniavsky, 2003):
Incorporate the findings of the focus group with data from field studies, surveys, and other HCI methods.