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Susan Hibbard on Conducting Anonymous Focus Groups

Hello Colleagues. My name is Susan Hibbard and I am an Assistant Professor of Research & Evaluation at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Through my work conducting research on evaluation, I experienced difficulty in recruiting participants for focus groups due to political sensitivity. I wanted to conduct focus groups with personnel who conduct program evaluations as part of their work in public school districts. School district employees were contacted via email to participate in a focus group regarding the way program evaluation is carried out in their school districts. Several individuals responded with an interesting request. The individuals agreed to share information about conducting evaluations for their job; however, they did not want anyone to know who they were or where they worked. In order to capture the information, I found multiple different ways to conduct the focus groups anonymously using Rondee and Skype.

Rad Resource: Rondee (www.Rondee.com) is a free phone conference system which participants call in and use a special code to enter the conference call. An added bonus, Rondee will also record the conference call for free! In order to make the focus group anonymous, an invitation was sent to a variety of potential participants via email with instructions to call-in to the recording conference system. Although the names of individuals were known who were invited to participate, the specific individuals who called in to participate were unknown. Using the external system allowed participants to anonymously participate without exposing their phone number or geographic location.

Rad Resource: Skype (www.Skype.com) is another free communication system which allows for multiple users to engage in one conversation. In order to use the system without cost, individuals need to download Skype onto their computer and have a microphone to communicate with others verbally. Although it is not recommended for a focus group, participants have the option to type responses if a microphone is not accessible. Participants can register an anonymous name for free and participate via the computer without identifying themselves or their location. The system allows up to 25 people to participate in a conference call. In order for participants to remain anonymous, Skype’s video conferencing feature was not used.

Although the researcher is unable to observe participants’ body language and facial expressions, conducting focus groups over the phone/internet can reduce some bias. Over the internet and phone, people cannot easily identify the age and race/ethnicity of individuals participating in the focus group or the person who is leading the focus group. This can eliminate any potential tension in the focus group if the topic of discussion has ties to specific race/ethnicity and/or age related issues. People can usually identify a person’s gender by voice over the phone.

This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. Want to learn more from Susan? She’ll be presenting as part of the Evaluation 2010 Conference Program, November 10-13 in San Antonio, Texas.

2 thoughts on “Susan Hibbard on Conducting Anonymous Focus Groups”

  1. Thank you for the mention Susan. I would be happy to provide a personal demo to any of your colleagues. My e-mail address is andre at rondeeinc dot com.

    Best regards,
    Andre Vanier
    Rondee Conference Calling

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