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Focus Group Basics

How to Conduct a Focus Group - Key Takeaways

These notes are gathered from two different sources listed below.


What is a focus group?

  • A focus group can be a helpful tool in gathering information about a community and its needs

    • Characterizing social and cultural norms

    • Identifying common themes/issues 

  • It consists of a group of people with certain characteristics who generate narrative data in a focused discussion

  • The group dynamic is helpful because is 

    • Widens range of responses 

    • Activates forgotten details for participants 

    • Releases inhibitions/makes people feel more comfortable


Designing focus groups studies 

  • Ideal to have 5-10 participants per group 

  • Stratification - may need to conduct separate groups by gender/age/etc depending on topic

  • Be mindful of power differentials between participants and avoid this 


Discussion Guide 

  • No more than 8-12 questions that are discussed for around 5-10 minutes each

    • Opening questions - should be more straightforward that can be answered quickly based on facts to make the participants more comfortable

    • Introductory questions  - foster interaction and focus on topic at hand

    • Transition questions and key questions  - move group towards discussing the key, often more complex and/or difficult questions

  • Keep language conversational, clear, and simple 

  • Keep questions open ended and not leading, so that people answer honestly 

    • One useful tool is to use the phrase “Think back to…”

    • Ex: “Think back to a time you were at the doctor’s office …related question” 

    • This grounds participants and takes them back to an experience they can draw upon

  • Avoid:

    • Asking why (sharp and may cause defensiveness). Instead ask how

    • Giving examples (may lead participants in an inauthentic direction)

  • Be sensitive of participants of time, cultural issues, language, etc


Moderating the focus group 

  • Its helpful to have two moderators -- one that can lead question asking and another who can be more attentive to participants non verbal responses (ex: people nodding) and group dynamics 

  • Listen acutely/actively (making eye contact with participants and being respectful)

  • Control and guide conversation, stay on track without truncating conversation

  • Be able to suppress our own personal views and be unbiased 

  • Make participants comfortable 

    • Start with an icebreaker question to get participants talking 

    • Try to identify speakers by name (As Mary said earlier...does anyone agree or disagree?)

  • Ask clarifying probes during a discussion

    • Question asked could be: What makes a good doctor? 

    • Potential following probes: What makes you think that? What do you mean by nice personality? How would a doctor demonstrate the things you mentioned? What has your past experience been like?


Analysis of focus group data

  • Have to remember the group is the unit of analysis! (not the individuals)

  • Ascertain whether something was a view of one member or a theme for the group

  • Note whether a specific discussion emerged as a result of moderator prompting or spontaneously from the group

  • More text/discussion does not necessarily mean the topic is more important


Notes gathered from:

  •  Yale Global Health Leadership Institute 

Lecture: Fundamentals of Qualitative Research Methods 

Leslie Curry, PhD, MPH


  •  OMNI Institute 

Basic Tools for Quantitative and Qualitative Data Collection


Resources to check out for more detailed information

  • Detailed document with information about best techniques for creating surveys, moderating, and analyzing data for focus groups 

  • Video giving a an example of moderating a focus group (with commentary) to learn from

Focus Group #3, W20

Takeaways from Focus Group 3, conducted in

Winter 20

Accessibility of Healthcare 

  • Don’t receive high quality medical attention, general health insurance is not enough to be treated well. Struggle visiting the health clinic because conflicts with work times. 

  • Often have to wait months for an appointment (up to 6 months for surgery)

  • Visiting the doctor wastes time and money because long wait times force missing work

    • Some reported standing in line at 2am and waiting until noon to see the doctor not everyone can afford to do so

    • Private doctors waste less time but are too expensive 

  • There is a “clinic by the field” but they do not treat serious conditions, and are limited to basics such as the flu shot

  • Sports center offers general medical services M-F (9am-1pm) with one doctor provided as government assistance (Seguro Popular) but it is a very basic general exam (no dental or vision)

  • Specialists and ambulances are very expensive (check ups and general medical assistance are cheap)

    • Pediatrics are 7 times more expensive

    • Medicines are expensive  (on top of visits)

  • Need for dental care and psychologists 

  • Many insurances do not cover several basic treatments and assessments (lack of government oversight)

  • Accessibility issues for disabled folks (city buses and taxis are not accommodating

  • One individual shares problems with misdiagnosis of her son’s learning disability, she had to push back to obtain a thorough diagnosis 

Feedback for FISH

  • Positive comments about FISH. Really appreciate that it is free

  • Around 40% of community knows about FISH but more people are learning about it through our advertisements 

  • Health consulting is very accessible because it is in the heart of the marketplace (many people find out about FISH by being at the market)

  • What FISH can do: kid workshops, remodeling the park by painting, more health workshops, more advertisement of health clinics 

    • Advertisement - repeated emphasis on leaving flyers with them which they spread in schools, churches, etc

Demographics of Maclovio Rojas 

  • Many immigrants in the community, mostly families

  • US immigration policies affect the community. People leave for better life in the US or are deported and sent back.

  • Commercial policies of the US affect the community with rising costs and falling salaries  

  • No support from the government results in a lack of resources 

  • About 60% of Maclovio doesn't have resources such as water and sewer systems 

  • Families often live together - one house may hold 3 families. Husbands leave for work (generally factories)

  • In comparison to other communities, Maclovio is more spacious. Land is sought after to build more factories 

  • Lot of pollution and contamination as a result of factories (birds dying)

  • Common challenge in Maclovio is regulation of legal land and property. Does not have government oversight Maclovio is not legally recognized by Mexican government 

  • Petitions to the government are ignored 

  • Constant fear of displacement from homes as a result of lack of legal titles/papers

Full transcript notes of interview part 1 

Full transcript notes of interview part 2

Interview with Nahomy

Interview with Nahomy

The following document contains key takeaways from an interview with Nahomy, which provided important community/demographic information about Maclovio and feedback on FISH.


Health Issues in Maclovio 

  • They have the general clinic, but they don't have the necessary resources for severe health problems.

  • 1-2 weeks for a general check up. 1-2 months for vaccinations. They don't treat severe health conditions. 

  • There's the necessary medical resources (treatments) but people don't go for them and don't take care of their health.

  • There is access to fruits and vegetables, they range around the same price from meats and dairy. They usually consume more fast food than homemade foods.

  • Buy food at the market place than at the grocery stores. 

  • They don't take into consideration the health tips provided by experts because of financial struggles.

  • People listen to the health tips and recommendations by fish but don't necessarily apply them in their daily lives

  • Besides the tips and recommendations also let them know of the consequences that the bad habits can have on them

  • People simply aren't interested in regular health check ups, and the long waiting times discourage them from attending the clinics for health check ups.


Demographics of Maclovio

  • 80% of the population has lived in maclovio since they were born and about 20% have migrated.

  • The majority of the migrants who arrive at Maclovio stay there. Single migrants come and go, but families typically stay depending on the space they could live in

  • The kids take the most advantage of fish, adults are asking about the english classes as well

  • They're not sure what other programs we offer, she didn't understand that the problems we offer depends on their needs

  • They would appreciate computational workshops, since it is now becoming a necessity for most jobs

  • They would want us to help to renew their sports center (paint/clean etc.)

  • Have the eye and diabetes check ups be more often

  • They want us to help fix up their community center

  • The funding comes within the community itself

  • Their main focus is on the kids, they acknowledge that the kids are the future of Malcovio

  • Economy hardships within Malcovio, leading to diet struggles and living situations. many kids drop the education to help their kids financially.

  • There isn't a high school in Maclovio, they need a transportation mode to travel to their high school and many don't have enough money for transportation

  • Less than half have a stable form of transportation

  • Large number of single moms and are left alone with the responsibilities of the whole family.

  • There aren't roads, it's all dirt and in the rainy season it all turns into mud and it makes it hard to commute.

  • No lights on roads, and very limited water resources.


Perceptions of FISH

  • (to notify of upcoming events) By phone calls with the staff or by mail. 

  • They don't have enough money to pay for their internet with high capacity in order for the kids to use the computers.

  • She prefers to be contacted by phone. Anything else we can also contact Sra Ortencia.

  • Also by creating pamphlets and they could help give them out in advance

  • When were not there she reviews the english lessons we have taught them.

  • We need to teach them a wide array of topics, so they have a deeper understanding of the whole language.

  • Teach them more about how to take care of our environment and help reduce pollution. Awareness on climate change.

  • They are very thankful for our projects that we do to help the kids. Although they see a conflict with our constant changes in leaders because the new leader changes the whole course that we have been teaching the kids and they have to adopt once again.

  • Many kids become demotivated because we constantly teach them the basics over and over again.

  • There were conflicts with the dates, and people show up many times expecting us when we don't have a trip scheduled.


Link to full interview notes 

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