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Moderating a Focus Group by Beverly Peters

Greetings! I am Beverly Peters, assistant professor of Measurement and Evaluation at American University. This is the fifth article in a 6-part series on Using Focus Groups for Monitoring and Evaluation. The fourth article discussed developing focus group questions and a questioning route, and this article will discuss moderating the focus group.

You have planned your focus group, sent invitations, crafted questions in a well thought out questioning route. You have considered if a recording device should be used, and hired a note taker so you can focus on leading the discussion.

Next comes focus group moderation! You want participants to be comfortable enough to express their opinions. The environment needs to be permissive and non-threatening. Participants should be physically and emotionally comfortable to share what can be controversial opinions.

Part of creating a positive environment depends on the skills of the moderator in facilitating conversation and building trust and rapport. The moderator needs to be seen as a person open to hear anything; someone that will not critique people or conversation, and who welcomes all viewpoints. The moderator also needs to be a good conversationalist and communicator who can move easily from one question to another, letting people interact, and making the focus group seem like a natural conversational process. Finally, the moderator should have enough emic knowledge to understand what people are saying, and to understand common terms focus group participants might use.

Krueger and Casey tell that the moderator needs to know when to wait for more information, when to move on, how to control dominant speakers, how to encourage hesitant participants, and how to listen to participants and tweak the question routing to their comments. The moderator needs to know the interview schedule and questioning route inside and out so they are not looking down at a notebook through the discussion to check to see what question is next.

Hot Tips:

As the session starts, I take the following steps:

  • Give an overview.  I introduce myself, and talk about the purpose of the research and specific objectives for the focus group.
  • Set ground rules. I ask participants to monitor their talk time, so that no one person or set of people dominate. I let people know we will discuss different viewpoints, that there is no right or wrong answer, that I want everyone to feel comfortable even voicing controversial opinions.
  • Discuss confidentiality and informed consent. In reality, we cannot guarantee full confidentiality. I can guarantee that I will hold confidentiality, but we cannot guarantee that our participants will. Putting ground rules into place helps set the stage for confidentiality, and non-attribution if appropriate.
  • Ask if people mind that I record the session.  I let participants know that the recording is only for data collection purposes, that tapes will not be made public, and they will be destroyed after transcription.
  • Moderate the focus group, ensuring my role facilitates the cascading of conversation. I tweak questions or question order depending on the conversation.
  • Summarize what was said at the end.  This helps me confirm that I have come away with correct interpretations of the discussion.  I thank participants, and remind them of confidentiality and non-attribution.
  • Check that your recording device recorded the whole session directly after the close. If there was a technical problem I start writing down as much as I can remember immediately, referring to my interview schedule as a guide.

Look for Part 6 tomorrow!

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “Moderating a Focus Group by Beverly Peters”

  1. Find this very insightful as an emerging evaluator. Would you mind sending your day-by-day tips straight to my inbox?

    Thank you

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