Chapter 28: Using Focus Groups
Jude Robinson WHAT ARE FOCUS GROUPS? Focus groups were first used in the 1920s in market research and subsequently adopted as an academic research method in the 1950s by the sociologist Robert Merton, who developed the ‘focussed interview’ (Merton et al., 1990). For good potted histories of the rise of the use of focus groups in social science see Morgan (1997), Bloor et al. (2001) and Krueger and Casey (2000). The word ‘focus’ comes from the direction of the group’s discussion to a particular topic or issue (Kitzinger, 1994). However not all group discussions are equal, and there is something ‘special’ and distinct about focus group discussions (Litoselliti, 2003) compared to group interviews (Currie and Kelly, Chapter 29, this volume). Krueger and Casey (2000, p. 10) have identified five characteristics of focus groups, namely: ‘(1) the people who (2) possess certain characteristics and (3) provide qualitative data (4) in a focussed discussion (5) to help understand the topic of interest’. There are a number of excellent introductory texts that take researchers through the process of designing and conducting focus groups research step by step, and I will refer to these throughout this chapter as I introduce some key concepts, issues and dilemmas that researchers are likely to encounter before going on to critically assess an example of my own focus group research. THE INTERACTIVE ELEMENT OF FOCUS GROUPS In the introduction to the six book series of the Focus Group Kit that he co-edits with Richard Krueger, David Morgan describes...
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