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Robert Brunger on Practical Tips for Focus Groups

Hi, I’m Robert Brunger. I am an evaluator with the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida; a Tallahassee based non-profit organization that has worked since 1989 to improve the lives of Florida’s children and families.

If you are planning to use focus groups to learn more about what’s on the minds of your stakeholders, here are some suggestions to help you make sense later out of what gets said during the focus group itself.

Hot Tip #1: Digital recorders really are “the greatest thing since sliced bread!” They are available for less than $40 from electronic retailers. Spend enough to get a model that will allow you to transfer the audio file from the device to your computer. (Get a couple of spare batteries, too!)

Hot Tip #2: Practice with your digital recorder before your use it in a focus group. They are not complicated, but you will want to avoid any undue “fussing” in the focus group setting. Record some practice conversations to get used to the controls and volume levels.

Hot Tip #3: When it gets to “show time,” introduce the digital recorder in a very matter-of-fact fashion, get it started, and then pay no further attention to it until the meeting is over.

Hot Tip #4: Place your recorder in the middle of the table, or on a stool in the middle of a circle of chairs. A recent EVALTALK poster, Daphne LaDue, has made a persuasive case for using two digital recorders, pointed in different directions, as a way to improve your ability to figure out what’s been said later.

Hot Tip #5: Start the digital recorder(s) and a stopwatch at the same time. Your note-taker (and, yes, you do need a note-taker!) can make periodic marginal notes about elapsed time from the stopwatch that can be very helpful later in getting your notes and the recorded audio file(s) to match.

Hot Tip #6: It’s also helpful to create a seating pattern diagram to accompany your notes, and assign everyone an identifier – first names will work well, or numbers, or some uniquely identifying characteristic (e.g., red blouse woman, black man with beard, etc.). You can use this scheme while taking notes to identify individual speakers.

Hot Tip #7: Consider how badly you will need to have a full transcript prepared, as that can be a real “time sink,” taking five to six hours per hour of recorded material. If you are doing multiple groups, or if many people will be involved in interpreting the results, you probably will need them, but for smaller projects, your own summary of what was said, based on your notes and selected quotes from the audio file(s) may be entirely sufficient.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

1 thought on “Robert Brunger on Practical Tips for Focus Groups”

  1. I purposely browsed through the blogs looking for tips on how to conduct a focus group. We have one scheduled in a few weeks, so I wanted to be sure that I had my bases covered. Your tips on how to record and keep track were simple for a first timer. Although I did have one question: are there any programs out (that you recommend) that would help transcribe the audio files into a word document? I do not see our focus groups to be very lengthy, but in the future, knowing that there is a program to help transcribe might prove to be useful.

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