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Tamara Williams and Ciara Zachary on the Benefits of Focus Groups

Hello AEA! This is Tamara Williams and Ciara Zachary, and we are members of the seventh cohort for the Graduate Education Diversity Internship (GEDI) Program. Tamara is a doctoral student at the University of Colorado-Boulder in the department of Sociology. Ciara is doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the department of Health, Behavior and Society. For her internship Tamara is working on campus at Community Health and focusing on the sexual health information and education needs of women of color. Ciara is assisting the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Carson Research Consultants with the evaluation of the Elev8 program in Baltimore City schools. While our internships may have different populations, we are both using focus groups as a tool to evaluate intermediate outcomes for our respective projects. Moreover, the current GEDI interns engaged in an AEA-sponsored focus group project during last year’s conference in San Antonio, so we wanted to share some lessons and tips we, as emerging evaluators, have learned about them.

Hot Tip:  Focus groups can be very practical for small projects or solo evaluators. They are cost effective, and they may not always require transcription.

With the Elev8 program, focus groups will be conducted with both students and parents to understand their perspectives on the program. Ciara is designing focus group guides to help gather data concerning student and parent awareness, use, and opinions of Elev8.

Hot Tip: Conducting the focus groups in the early stages of the program is useful in that group dynamics can yield information that students and parents may not want to share during a face-to-face interview or even while completing a survey. Most of all, responses will guide future program activities, etc. to ensure that Elev8 meets it’s long term goals.

Hot Tip: When conducting focus groups with different stakeholder groups such as parents, children, and vulnerable populations, it’s important to remain cognizant of group dynamics, ethical considerations, the ordering of questions, and even whether or not the focus group feels like a discussion. Ensuring that group members are comfortable with one another and with the moderator, feel that they are not being exploited or being examined can help identify group norms and priorities and even empower community members.1 Additionally, the data collected can improve programs and improve the evaluation process.

Furthermore, is a focus group a good data collection method for your project? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. What types of information do I need to collect to answer my evaluation question(s)?

2. Who will be asked to provide the information, and is it feasible to gather them together for a conversation?


1. Kitzinger, J.(1995). Qualitative research: introducing focus groups. British Medical Journal, 311(7000), 299.

2. O’Sullivan, R.G. (2004). Practicing Evaluation: A Collaborative Approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. PP

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. This is a shortly monthly series highlighting contributions from AEA’s Graduate Education Diversity Internship (GEDI) Program and its interns. You can learn more about the GEDI program by visiting its webpage. 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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