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Tysza Gandha and Katherine Ryan on Extending the Focus Group Method

Greetings to all! We are Tysza Gandha and Katherine Ryan from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With our colleagues at the Illinois Assessment and Accountability Project, we have been evaluating policy consequences.

Like many evaluators, we rely on focus groups to gain a deeper and richer understanding of people’s experiences and perspectives in a particular policy or program context. A focus group typically involves 6-8 participants who have some common characteristics/experiences. A moderator asks a few open-ended questions and ensures that everyone gets to participate, but generally steps back to allow participants to “take over” and “own” the discussion. In this post, we share ideas and tips for what we call the narrative focus group approach. With minor adjustments to the protocol, we were able to yield even richer data to further increase the value of focus groups.

The table below distinguishes the narrative from the more common theory-building focus group approach. We highlight their differences for explanatory purposes, though we acknowledge that many focus groups fall somewhere in between!

 Hot Tip: Useful ideas for facilitating narrative focus groups:

  1. Find or create a comfortable and familiar setting where participants can engage one another like they might normally. With teachers, we bring snacks and drinks and create a teachers’ lounge atmosphere.
  2. Start with a short free-writing exercise to help participants access relevant memory. Jumpstart a rich discussion by asking them to share what they wrote with one another.
  3. Listen for loaded terms (e.g., “rich education”) and ask participants to break it down (“What you do mean by…? Who else wants to add…”). Such terms tend to be the tips of the iceberg!

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 Want to learn more from Tysza and Katherine? They’ll be presenting as part of the Evaluation 2011 Conference Program, November 2-5 in Anaheim, California.



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