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Managing and Analyzing Focus Group Data by Beverly Peters

Beverly Peters
Beverly Peters

Hello! I am Beverly Peters, an assistant professor of Measurement and Evaluation at American University. This is the final article in a 6 part series on Using Focus Groups for Monitoring and Evaluation. The articles in this series have discussed when to use focus groups, planning for the focus group including who to invite, developing questions and a questioning route, and moderating the focus group. This final article will review managing and analyzing focus group data.

Directly after you conduct a focus group, I would urge you to take the time to sit down and debrief with other members of the evaluation team, including your notetaker. Take debriefing notes around your initial thoughts, before you transcribe any tapes. Highlight areas where you felt that there was agreement, controversy, or confusion. Consider if there were questions that confused participants, or questions that were particularly (un)successful in facilitating conversation. Note where you think you may need to collect additional data. If it is early in your focus group research, you might consider tweaking the questions or questioning route if needed.

If you are like me, you ruminate on the focus group for a couple of days after its moderation. I keep my debriefing notes handy, and make additional comments as they come to mind.

The next step is transcribing your focus group, which can be extremely time consuming, particularly you are conducting a focus group in a language which needs translation. Your organization might have budgeted for transcription services, or perhaps you will use one of the services available online.

Once you have a transcription, I recommend comparing it to the notetaker’s and debriefing notes for areas of agreement and concern. Highlight areas of confusion, and be sure to follow up with the notetaker or other members of the evaluation team to clarify.

In order to ensure the reliability of data, I write debriefing notes, transcribe the focus group, and refer to the notes of my notetaker as soon as possible after the focus group. The longer you leave this initial analysis, the more you will potentially forget about the focus group. As you analyze one focus group, you should try to find themes, ask what was surprising, flesh out when people agreed and disagreed and why, and ask yourself what interpretations a particular focus group produced.

As you analyze and compare the data from multiple focus groups, look for major themes that cut across all of your focus groups. You should also look for aspects that are mentioned only a few times.  You should analyze groups by categories of who participated, and you should identify areas of agreement and disagreement, within and across focus groups.

Rad Resources:

Throughout this series, I have cited several Rad Resources, which include:

Kruger and Casey’s Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research, 5th ed.

Beverly Peters, Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods for Monitoring and Evaluation. Washington, DC: American University.

Sarah Tracy, Qualitative Research Methods: Collecting Evidence, Crafting Analysis, and Communicating Impact, 2nd ed.

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2 thoughts on “Managing and Analyzing Focus Group Data by Beverly Peters”

  1. Sorry that I am only seeing this comment now! I think that many of us have had to conduct online focus groups the last few months. I have used Zoom, FaceBook, and Teams for focus groups. You need to choose the technology that works best for your participants. Then I would plan the online focus group similar to a face-to-face group. You need to build rapport and find connections with your participants to make them feel at ease as you lead the group. I recently did a webinar on Conducting Evaluations Virtually. Maybe it would be of interest? https://www.gotostage.com/channel/546a35201d924876a61df57d3b0d2259/recording/ad9970907e154ae58f7ad5c2f8e9a5c1/watch

  2. Hello Beverly,

    Thank you for your great series on focus groups. Your clearly laid out explanations of the various factors in having a successful group have helped me immensely! I have been thinking of the best data collection methods for a program evaluation I am designing. I had planned on doing focus groups, but having read your series I am rethinking this. The data I would be collecting is more individual in nature, as well as sensitive, so I will consider how to use interviews instead.

    I do see many opportunities in my work where a focus group would be ideal. One of the barriers we regularly face when inviting clients to participate is such activities, is that many of our clients cannot attend groups in person. I had considered using Zoom web conferencing technology as a means of including them in the groups. I am wondering if you have used this technology, or something similar, in focus groups and did you find that it worked well or did it detract from the overall experience? If you have used this technology, do you have suggestions on how to facilitate the group when some people are present in the room and some are connected in via their home computer?

    Thank you again for the great series!
    Erika Rice

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