SEA Professional Development Week: Dr. Moya Alfonso on Becoming a Well-Trained Focus Group Moderator

My name is Dr. Moya Alfonso, MSPH, and I’m an Associate Professor at Georgia Southern University and University Sector Representative and Board Member for the Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA).

So you want to be an evaluator but you’re unfamiliar how to moderate focus group discussions – a key qualitative approach involved with formative, process, and summative evaluations. Plus, there are limited to no focus group specific courses in your program of study. Do not lose hope. All it takes is some creative thinking.

Focus group discussions are a qualitative research method that involves a focused set of questions that are asked of six to 10 focus group participants. The keyword in this definition is focused – discussions revolve around a specific topic.

Lesson Learned: Focus groups are done when you are interested in group dynamics, participant language, stories and experiences, and a breadth of information. Focus groups are wonderful; however, they are designed for a very specific purpose and have limitations that should be considered (e.g., difficulty with recruitment, brief stories or snippets of information, etc.).

Hot Tips: These resources will help you learn about focus groups and how to moderate discussion:

  1. Find a mentor: Most of my training and expertise in focus group research was gained through hands-on experience. I worked with experienced qualitative researchers who enabled me to co-facilitate, and then later conduct focus groups and train others. Many evaluators are open to mentoring those starting out in the field. Technology can facilitate your mentor search process by providing opportunities for remote relationships.       Try searching university expertise databases for potential mentors or the American Evaluation Association’s evaluator database.
  2. Read everything you can about focus group research: One of the focus group research resources is Krueger’s Focus Group Toolkit.       Although a new copy of this toolkit may stretch your budget, used copies are available. Start with Krueger’s free resource on focus group research. The toolkit takes you through everything from recruitment, participatory approaches, focus group research, question development, and to data analysis and report writing. It’s a worthy investment.
  3. Look for other virtual resources: A terrific resource for focus group research is the Community Toolbox, which provides access to numerous focus group resources.
  4. Attend (many) conferences: Reconsider spending your student loan check on a vacation and head to a conference! You can do both; for example, the annual University of South Florida’s Social Marketing Conference is held at a lovely beach resort. This conference historically provides a course in focus group research.

Conducting focus group research takes practice, practice, and more practice. Good luck on becoming a well-trained focus group moderator!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the SEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from SEA Affiliate members. 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.

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