This module discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using focus groups in research, as well as the ethical considerations.
- List and describe the advantages of using focus groups in research
- List and describe the disadvantages of using focus groups in research
- Discuss ethical considerations related to using focus groups
As with any research method, focus groups have both strengths and weaknesses. When choosing methodology, it is important for the researcher to consider these advantages and disadvantages when determining if the use of focus groups is the correct approach. Following is a discussion of some of the key advantages and disadvantages to the use of focus groups in research.
Advantages of Focus Groups
- Focus groups can obtain in-depth information about personal and group thoughts, feelings, attitudes, perceptions, and opinions.
- The group discussion allows participants to build off each other’s responses. The group dynamic stimulates conversation and a greater understanding of the topic. Sometimes feeling of groups members even change throughout the conversation as additional information is discussed.
- Focus groups allow for follow up questions and clarification of answers. There is a degree of flexibility in the direction of the conversation. This may results in the opportunity to gather a broader range of information than originally sought.
- Focus groups are relatively inexpensive and can save time compared to individual interviews. Results can be gathered in a short time period compared to some other methods.
- Quotes that can be utilized later are easily obtained.
- Focus groups provide real-life data in a social setting that is difficult to obtain in any other methodology.
- Participants have an opportunity to feel like they are involved and have the opportunity to make a difference.
Disadvantages of Focus Groups
- Focus groups do not provide a representative view of the whole population and the results are not able to be generalized.
- The more articulate or stronger personalities may dominate the conversation. This may cause some participants to be hesitant about expressing themselves. These members of the group may self-censor and not share their authentic thoughts and feelings.
- The information gathered is primarily subjective and is not of statistical significance. The information may also not be as in-depth as individual interviews would provide.
- Some topics are not suitable for a focus group discussion because of the personal or controversial nature of the topic. Examples may include HIV, divorce, domestic abuse, political opinions and so forth. Participants may not disclose very much with these types of topics and emotionally charged topics may even lead to arguments.
- The moderator must remain neutral or there is the risk of the moderator’s opinion or biases shaping the discussion and tainting the data.
- The conversation may become difficult to control or manage and the discussion may become unproductive. Therefore, the researcher has less control over the data produced.
- Depending on the personalities of the participants, some may respond in an effort to please one another or the moderator. Others may be driven to try to find consensus among the group, which is not the goal of the focus group.
- Focus groups can be difficult to assemble and organize.
In addition to considering the advantages and disadvantages of the focus group method, researchers should also be cognizant of ethical considerations. The ethical concerns related to focus groups are the same as the concerns for other types of qualitative research in terms of the use of human subjects, as has been discussed in previous Research Ready modules. First, the voluntary participation of the members must be respected. Participants should sign consent forms and have fully understanding of the process and how the information will be used, as with other projects involving human subjects. However, in a focus group, additional care should be taken so that members of the group are not pressured to respond by other members or the moderator during the interview session. The second ethical concern is confidentiality and anonymity of the data collected. People participating in a focus group need to be assured that no information that is revealed can identify them personally. This is true of other research methodology as well, but it is more challenging with focus groups because of the number of participants in the group. Participants need to be encouraged to keep the conversation confidential and respect the rights of others in the group. Essentially, the “group” nature of a focus group does present challenges in terms of ensuring the rights of the participants and balancing those rights with the need for members of the group to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
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