by ALYOU ALEM TEBEJE
Bachelor of Art, Metropolitan State University of Minnesota, 2003
Master of Business Administration, Argosy University-Twin Cities, 2005
A Paper Submitted to Dr. Gerald H. Ellis of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree DOCTOR OF EDUCATION
Copyright © 2007
Alyou Alem Tebeje
Focus Group Research
Focus groups generally consist of small groups, carefully planned discussion designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a non-threatening environment. The interaction among focus group participants brings out differing perspectives. People become more involved in the spirit of group discussion and may reveal more than they would in the more formal interview setting. As participant in a formal discussion ask questions of each other, new exploration are opened. Interaction is the key to successful focus groups. Focus groups can be used for many purposes including program development and evaluation, planning, and needs assessment (Krueger & Casey, 2000).The theory focus group research is that information yielded in a group dynamic will be rich and useful for the relevance of factors such as age, educational background, sex, professional status and ethnic formation.
Objective of the Research
An objective of the research phase will be for the focus groups to co-ordinate and share ideas. Group members influence each other by responding to ideas and comments in the discussion (Krueger, 2000). A focus group meeting is scheduled for the middle of the research period for all the groups to get together and meet with each other in a round robin fashion to co-ordinate direction. The research proposal should also describe how the report will be organized and distributed. If the research findings will be formally presented to you and or other audiences, the research proposal should describe the general presentation plan.
Relevance of the Research
Focus group research involves organized discussion with a selected group of individuals, to obtain information about their views and experiences on a particular topic, (Greenbaum, 1998). Focus group interviews are particularly suited for obtaining several perspectives about the topic. The focus group research is exploratory and helps shape the survey objectives, sampling plan, questionnaire and other important aspects of the study. Focus groups are conducted to gain insight into how the target audience thinks and makes decisions about the subject of interest as a prelude to a larger survey. Survey research is often referred to as “confirmatory”. This does not mean that the survey research does confirm the findings from the focus groups. It means that the survey is capable of validating the focus group findings. The survey may confirm or disconfirm the findings from the focus groups.
Questions need to be answered before a decision to conduct a research study can be made. Focus group research involves organized discussion with a selected group of individuals to gain information about their views and experiences of the subject. Bader and Rossi (1998) indicated that the researcher will make decisions about what to ask and how, the flow of the questions, question structure and wording. The researcher will also make decisions about the use of open vs. close-ended questions. In general, you want to use open ended questions when doing qualitative research but closed ended questions on a survey. The Focus group researcher should answer the research question and responsible for conducting prior studies on the subject of research. The Researcher is responsible for translating your objectives into research terms. The questions that must be answered are:
- What decision is this research study supposed to support?
- What do we already know?
- What information do we need but don’t have?
- Can we get this information by conducting this research study?
- Does the value of the information justify the cost of the research?
Barriers and Issues
Questionnaire design is quite a science and should also be undertaken by a research professional. Experienced researchers understand the characteristics of marketing data, levels of measurement and consequences of improper manipulation of research data. An experienced researcher will help you avoid common errors in questionnaire construction. People often do not themselves understand their own motivations and preferences and thus cannot articulate them well. People have complex, even conflicting motivations which may come together in unpredictable ways given only slightly varying ways of presenting a stimulus. People may give acceptable or politically correct responses in front of peers, and they may act differently in real situations compared with hypothetical ones, (Bader& Rossi, 1998). They may be aware of the study’s sponsorship and tell the researcher what they believe he or she wants to hear.
The researchers should assemble focus groups that control, to some degree, for the following demographic characteristics: age, gender, income, etc. The ultimate deliverable for this phase will be a report summarizing the results of the focus group discussions. In addition, videotapes or other recordings of the focus groups for presentations and other possible uses.
If the researcher decides to conduct a research study then a research plan is developed that lays out in substantial detail how the data will be collected and analyzed. The research professional the researcher working with is responsible for developing the research plan.
Control groups hard to create hard to restrict programs (mass media), people move, and talk (Greenbaum, 1998). Open ended questions allow participants to share their thinking and practices. In exploratory studies you want to encourage the participants to share in-depth. In contrast, surveys are structured to facilitate statistical analysis. According to Bader and Rossi (1998), Closed-ended questions yield more useful information and are subject to a wide array of statistical analyses. Open-ended questions yield limited information on a survey and are time consuming and costly to analyze. One open-ended question is fine but more than that is a poor use of resources.
Review of the Literature
- Brief review of academic literature on quality of work: Relationship between increasing workloads and stress
- Other sources of work-related stress (e.g., the role of supporting resources in conducting work)
- Effects of technological change on workloads/skill requirements
- Scan and review of research models and findings of similar studies conducted on work climate issues of academic staff in other post-secondary institutions
- Effects Literature Specific to Dream Content as a Therapeutic Approach
- Focus groups will collect current literature to better understand the issues for their group. Facility guidelines literature has been collected from other states by EDI. Additionally, literature on “best practice” for educational design and facility maintenance is being collected. All the focus group members will place this information on the project web site to allow for easy access.
• A second objective of the research phase will be for the focus groups to co-ordinate and share ideas. A focus group meeting is scheduled for the middle of the research period for all the groups to get together and meet with each other in a round robin fashion to co-ordinate direction.
Data collection methods differ for qualitative and quantitative research studies, (Krueger & Casey, 2000). Qualitative research relies on focus groups or in-depth personal interviews. Both have similar goals and use a similar method. According to Krueger and Casey (2000), Quantitative research most commonly takes the form of a survey and the data can be collected using all of the following methods: Face-to-face; telephone; internet or email; mail. Multiple data collection methods are needed when surveying people with disabilities and should be carefully considered when planning the research study. It is unlikely that the researcher will use face-to-face as a primary data collection method in survey research due to the expense. Participants will be selected on the basis of their representation from diverse backgrounds to ensure a variety of working backgrounds, practical experience, and native language.
According to Greenbaum (1998), the focus group research is conducted with approximately 8 to 12 people by a skilled interviewer. A focus group is group participants who share similar characteristics of interest. They may share similar needs or experience paths. One example of an experience path might include clients whose rehabilitation plan included education or training. A minimum of three focus groups should be conducted with each sub-group of interest. A trained but unbiased moderator should conduct and analyze the focus groups. The interviews will be taped (with consent), transcribed, and summarized and coded for themes. Thematic content will be compared across occupations, units, and career stages to determine differences/similarities of experiences and attitudes, Tape excerpts from one meeting may be played back to a subsequent group to obtain reactions.
According to Greenbaum (1998), sampling is the targeting and selection of research subjects within a larger population. Samples are selected on the basis of the research purpose, the degree of generalization desired, and available resources. The sample ideally represents the entire target population. Determining the correct sampling plan can require extensive work. Many factors should be considered when determining a suitable sampling plan, such as the total population size, appropriate confidence level, anticipated participation level, and other technical issues. A research study is designed to include all members of the target population.
The researcher should carefully consider the costs of making an incorrect decision, (Greenbaum, 1998). Sampling methods enable you to lower the costs of the research while maintaining a high degree of validity. This means that the research findings represent the population of interest and can be generalized to the entire population. In addition to being less costly, sampling is often faster. When determining the sampling plan, a key consideration is how the data will be used. Focus group studies do not require use of a random sample because the objective is not to generalize the findings to the entire population.
Focus groups are representative of the target population. Focus groups seldom generate information that you can generalize to the target population as a whole. This is not unique to focus group research but is a characteristic of much qualitative research. Often, qualitative research generates information that you may be able to generalize to other situations or processes and the intent is not to generalize to a particular population. There is also one procedural limitation.
Bias can be introduced into a research study quite innocently, usually because lay people make decisions about research design without consulting a trained researcher, (Greenbaum, 1998). All of your great work can be negated if the research results are biased in some preventable way. The most common source of preventable bias is the use of state agency personnel to conduct the research and analyze the findings. The steps most often mentioned as being particularly vulnerable to bias are data collection and data analysis. If the agency feels that it cannot avoid using staff to complete these steps in the research process, it is absolutely essential that direct service staff, especially counselors not be selected for this purpose. Staff asked to complete any part of a research study should be research professionals with the possible exception of staff used to answer the free telephone line.
These staff, however, must be trained to take the phone calls and may need to pass these calls to more skilled personnel. The best approach avoids even the appearance of bias by limiting the use of agency staff to design and conduct research studies. The researcher need to take this issue seriously if you want to use the evidence based decision approach. You need to produce credible evidence that you can use to build a defensible case to explain positions you take and decisions you make.
The objective of the focus group research is to secure key facts needed to make important decisions. Initial instrument development, as well as adaptation of existing instruments for use with different populations necessitates identifying appropriate items. Because the populations targeted by these instruments usually represent an excellent resource for obtaining information and for this type of research are using both focus group and in-depth interviews conducted by telephone. Interviews generally begin with a descriptive statement of the topic to be covered, followed by open-ended questions. It is the most useful information came from questions that permitted participants to respond from their own experience. Transcripts from focus group audiotapes were analyzed and are being compared with responses to the instruments. Comparing focus group information with instrument responses provides an opportunity to identify commonalties and differences in focus group. Most studies bring the focus group together for one session, but a sequence of meetings is also possible, usually for one or two hours each. Tape excerpts from one meeting may be played back to a subsequent group to obtain reactions. Follow up additional study broader and more ambitious the purposes of doing focus group research, the more groups are necessary.
Testing will be done by applying the guidelines that have been identified by each of the focus groups as successful in their design. The guidelines can then be assessed as to whether they lead to desirable results or miss important design factors. The guidelines will then be revised to reflect the assessment.
Validity and reliability
In this study validity and reliability were tested. Validity of focus groups is maintained by having an experienced Focus Group Facilitator. Focus group research design, implementation, and analysis of data are essential to producing useful and reliable data. Assessment for different groups may be very different, but here is no reason why a service cannot be of much greater relevance to one issue than another. This should be based on the highest level of relevance identified for any group. If, for example, a service is judged to be of low relevance to race, medium relevance to gender and high relevance to disability, then the overall assessment for the service would be high. The assessment by unit managers should be informed wherever possible by consultation with appropriate members of staff. Where the unit has information arising from consultation with customers, this should also inform the assessment
The focus groups research based primarily on participants’ feelings, but many researchers lack understanding and empathy for the groups involved in their research projects. Focus groups never produce one absolutely correct answer. The ethical issues arise in the design, review, and follow-up process, also the ethical issues involved in the recruitment of research participants, which is necessary in order to ensure justice in the conduct of research and to avoid the risk of exploitation. By far, the most significant ethical issues that practitioner focus group participants identified were related to the subject matter. The scope of practice, values inherent in the relationship with clients, practice standards, ethical guidelines for professional conduct and research needs.
A final report will be prepared that summarizes the findings from all stages of the proposed research. Overwhelmingly, focus group participants indicated that the answers to their questions about organizational management; and improving client services. The report will also include a set of recommendations that can be used to address quality of work life issues that emerge from the study. Participants demonstrated an uneven knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. Despite their limited understanding of the subject matter, participants had well developed opinions, both pro and con, reflected similar understanding of the potential benefits.
Implications arising from the findings are highlighted here. In some cases, the results confirm the campus survey results. In other cases, the implications go beyond findings in the focused and open-ended questionnaires and point the way to new directions that should be explored in ensuing investigations.
The recommendations of the focus groups will be shaped into a document at this point. A review and comment period will follow where focus group members will post questions and concerns. A revision and second review period will follow.
The focus groups provided a different kind of understanding about institutions and human interactions than was generated by questionnaires. They were designed to encourage participants to explain issues or experiences raised by the study within their own frame of reference. This study summarizes the results of the focus groups held to further explore some of the questions and issues raised by the data gathered. The study was designed to gain a sense of how the focus groups felt about issues related to past, its present, and its future in a number of findings that will help the community plan. However, studies are, by design, limited in the amount of depth they provide on any given issue. Within this context, the focus groups serve as a valuable tool for providing additional insights on some of the issues or questions raised by the survey questionnaire. In addition to exploring more fully questions or issues raised by the questionnaire, the focus group results generated new interpretations to be tested through subsequent systematic and quantitative means.
The focus group participants were able to describe their perceptions of the profession in broad terms. This executive summary summarizes the overall findings contained in the full report, focus group final report: meanings, implications. The focus groups generated propositions reflecting the views of the participants on issues.
Bader, G. and Rossi, C. (1998). Focus groups: A step-by-step guide. U.S: The Bader
Greenbaum, T. (1998). The handbook for focus group research, second edition.
Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications
Krueger, R. A. & Casey, M. A. (2000). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied
research. Sage Publications