SAUP Program Review: Focus Group Primer
Many SAUP program reviews will include focus groups because of their power and flexibility in gathering customer and constituent opinions, perceptions, responses, etc.
Focus Group Description
A focus group is a gathering of 8-12 unit constituents assembled to discuss unit performance through moderated discussion. The focus group discussion is purposeful, yet informal. It is truly a discussion.
- Questions are prepared in advance but not held to legalistically
- There is always a focus group moderator and at least one note taker
- Focus groups for program reviews are not recorded on audio or video tape
- Normally, more than one focus group is conducted for a given review
- A focus group is not a survey, not all questions must be answered by all participants
Functions of Groups
- Encourage each person to speak his/her mind
- Develop an understanding of the "language" of unit constituents
- Determine perceptions and misconceptions
- Explore terms and concepts thoroughly
- Ask "why?"
- Hear the unit's "story" from the group's perspective
- Generate ideas for unit improvement
Often, a focus group is used before a survey so that the research-able concepts introduced by the members of the focus group can be studied on a broader scale.
What a Focus Group is NOT
- A statistically reliable survey
- Research of a representative sample
- A gripe session
- A lecture
- A source of statistical conclusions
Steps in Planning a Focus Group Session
- Arrange time, date, and location
- Determine 12-20+ participants who share a common connection with the Unit
- Send out initial invitation letters 4 weeks in advance
- Arrange for light refreshments
- Make telephone follow-up calls
- Determine participants and send reminder e-mail
- Complete work on questions and strategy
- Send final reminder e-mail one week prior
Focus Group Moderator Strategies
- Use an inverse pyramid approach to questions
- Start with broad, "soft" questions
- What do you think are the one or two most important ways in which the department has helped you do your job most effectively?
- What is the most fulfilling aspect about your interaction with the department?
- What are ways in which the department seems to understand your needs? What about ways in which they don't appear to understand?
- Start with broad, "soft" questions
- Work toward more specific questions and questions that may be more emotionally charged
- Let's talk about your last interaction with a representative of the department. How did it go? Was your problem solved quickly?
- Were you made to feel important?
- Which of the department's policies or procedures make sense to you? Which don't?
- Develop ways for the people to relax
- Refreshments, opening icebreaker, introductions, etc.
- Promise to start and end on time (90 minutes tops)
- Assure individual confidentiality/anonymity
- Be alert – look for opportunities to ask follow-up questions or pursue topics initiated by the group members
- Spread the conversation around, don't be afraid to call on the quiet ones and gently interrupt the dominators
- Remember the goal is to harvest perceptions, ideas, concepts, etc.
- Assure the members of the group that their opinions matter. (In fact, their opinions are all that matter in a focus group such as this.)
Sample Focus Group Questions
- Let's talk about how you interact with the department. What does that usually look like?
- What are stories you can share that illustrate the department's strengths and weaknesses?
- What are areas in which the department doesn't seem to understand your particular needs?
- If you were put in charge of the department, what's the first change you would implement?
- As a group, let's see if we can list the top 7 strengths of the department along with the top 7 ways in which the department could improve.