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Focus Groups

A focus group is a small group discussion with a facilitator. Focus groups are used to explore attitudes and opinions in depth, such as what issues are of most concern for a community or group. Discovering these issues can help determine preferred options for addressing the issues or what concerns would prevent a proposal from going ahead. Focus groups should deliver detailed knowledge of the issues that concern a specific demographic or community.


  • Assists in developing a preliminary concept of the issues of concern, from which a wider community survey may be undertaken.
  • Helps to make limited generalizations based on the information generated by the focus group.
  • Identifies the reasons behind people’s likes/dislikes.
  • Produces ideas that would not emerge from surveys/questionnaires, because the focus group provides opportunities for a wider range of comments.
  • Allows for more open discussion and transparency.

Challenges to Consider

  • Small groups may not be representative of the community response to an issue; they require careful selection to be a representative sample (similar age range, status, etc).
  • People must be able to operate within their comfort zones--some people may not want to be open with their opinions in an unfamiliar group setting.
  • Requires skilled facilitation.

Principles for Successful Planning

  • Carefully select 8-15 individuals to discuss and give opinions on a single topic.
  • Develop agenda with five or six major questions at most.
  • Provide background material as appropriate, or develop minimal presentation of material to set context and introduce the subject.
  • Book a venue that is comfortable and accessible for different groups.
  • Hire a facilitator.
  • Brief participants and the facilitator on the aims and objectives of the session.
  • Establish ground rules: keep focused, maintain momentum, and get closure on each question before moving on to the next.
  • Record data gathered from focus group discussion.
  • De-brief the session with the participants and the facilitator.


  • Staff are needed to recruit participants, record and analyze the sessions, and develop a report
  • Experienced focus group facilitator is essential
  • Interpreter, if necessary


  • Neutral, comfortable space for the sessions
  • Means to record the information (audio recorder, flipcharts, etc.)

Planning Time

  • Sufficient time is needed to select the participants, reserve space for the focus group sessions, and develop thoughtful and well-phrased questions.
  • Ideally, time should be set aside to pilot test the questions.

Implementation Time

  • A single focus group session typically last 2-4 hours.