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Focus Groups: Practice

This guide is intended to support the presentation on Focus Groups at the 2016 South Dakota Library Association annual conference.


Define your issue - what do you want to know?

Define your stakeholders - who are those most involved in what you want to know?

Stakeholders here are not necessarily your usual list of stakeholders. You want to use those who will most benefit from or are most interested in your topic.

Develop a list of questions - too many at first is fine.

Refine your questions down to the most relevant few questions for your topic.

Make sure that your questions are entirely open and not leading questions.

Test your questions on a few people who are not involved in writing them.

Develop your script.

Make sure you know what you are going to say to open and close the groups. You should be using the introduction to inform the group about the purpose of your focus group and how you will be using the information. Let them know about how their words will be recorded as well.

Have some quick prompts ready in case the discussion gets off the rails. You'll want to be ready to gently prod it back to the topic at hand.

Recruit your focus group members.

Focus groups are not experimental so there is nothing random about recruitment.

You can put out a general request for assistance and take whoever volunteers.

You can arrow in on specific people and purposely develop your groups.

Find and reserve a location that is convenient for the group.

Having a focus group in the library is fine but consider other alternatives as well.

If there is something controversial to discuss about the library, consider holding the focus group in a neutral location.

Look for someplace quiet and private but also inviting and comfortable.

Define the roles of those participating - make sure you have everyone you need.

A moderator is required for focus groups. The moderator can be a library staff member or someone just willing to help with the role. The moderator should be able to lead the discussion without contributing opinions of their own.

It is good to have someone else take notes as moderating and taking notes can be difficult and leads to missing points.

Define what it is you want to see in your report before the groups even begin.

If you know what you expect to get out of the focus groups, the report will be easy to write.

Do you want a bulleted list of major points or a detailed accounting of each point brought up and how many times it was mentioned?

Do you want a chronological report (who said what in order) or is a categorized report more useful?

Who is going to get the report?

When is the report to be finished?

What is going to happen to the report once it is delivered?


Incentives can be either good or bad - they can get people to your groups but the people they attract may come for the incentives, not to help you.

Holding a focus group

Prepare the room for the group.

If you have snacks/drinks, set them out so they are available but out of the way.

Make sure the lights are on and there is someone to greet participants as they arrive.

Greet participants as they arrive.

The moderator and note taker should be on hand to greet people as they arrive and make them feel welcome.

Have name tags or table tents ready for people so everyone know who everyone else is.

Moderator should begin the group by talking about the study.

Tell the group up front what will be done with the data gathered and recordings made.

It is generally good to get a release signed from each participant that gives in writing what the study is about and how the data will be used and saved (or not).

The moderator then begins to pose questions but does not contribute to the conversation other than to answer clarifying questions and keep the discussion on track.

The moderator should have some prompts ready in case the discussion begins following a tangent.

The moderator should also keep track of who has said what and make sure that everyone has a chance to speak and nobody dominates the discussion.

The note taker should run the recorder and should also take notes on the discussion.

It is generally not required to record who said what unless the focus group will be transcribed and the transcript used for formal analysis.

When the focus group is done, thank the participants and remind them of how the data will be used.

Provide the participants with contact information in case they need to contact you about the study for any reason later.

Conduct a Focus Group Example - Humorus

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