Hello! My name is Taneisha Lee, CEO of Transformative Research and Evaluation, an independent research and evaluation consulting firm in Atlanta, Georgia. We are currently evaluating a Minority Youth Violence Prevention II (MYVP2) grant-funded program for one of our clients, Clayton County System of Care. Two of the grant’s goals are to reduce youth crime and improve youth attitudes and beliefs about violence. With the evaluation, we seek to better understand youth attitudes about violence, which in turn would inform the organization’s programmatic activities.
In April, our team facilitated 8 focus groups with approximately 100 middle and high school youth to better understand what factors and conditions lead to fights and violence at school and in the community. Inspired by the upcoming Women’s World Cup, we provided each participant with a red and green card. During the focus group, the facilitators read different scenarios: “Someone of the same gender says something disrespectful to you,” “You feel angry about something,” “Someone says something about your mother or a close family member.” Students were instructed to raise a green card if it was okay to fight in the scenario and a red card if it was not okay to fight in the scenario.
My first focus group was with a group of high school girls. After reading the first scenario, a few of the students raised both the red and green cards.
I was NOT prepared for this! I asked the students what raising both cards meant. They responded, “it depends.” After further discussion with the students, I learned that fighting was not black and white. Discussions about each scenario revealed the array of factors that influenced students’ decisions about fighting.
After the first round of focus groups, I conferred with the other facilitators and learned some had similar experiences. We discussed the limitations of established survey instruments and the utility of focus groups for truly understanding students’ experiences and attitudes.
- Stay open and flexible! Instead of forcing students to choose one card, we probed to better understand their experiences and gained a wealth of unexpected knowledge about youth attitudes.
- Engage youth before the focus group. Our semi-structured focus group protocol provided opportunities for probing and for youth to guide the discussion based on their experience. The scenarios for the focus group were developed through a collaboration and listening session with a different group of youth about their experiences with fighting. Youth suggested scenarios we would have never considered.
- Think outside the box. Mix things up by incorporating different types of questions and mini-activities during the focus group. We often include a piece of paper and writing utensils and ask participants to writing ratings or words before sharing them with the larger group.
- Thank your participants. We provided each student with a zip-lock bag with the red and green card, pen and paper, and candy. Our students LOVE sour candy!
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