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Focus Group

Focus groups are used for exploratory studies, and the issues that emerge from the focus group may be developed into a questionnaire or other form of survey to verify the findings. Relatively inexpensive, focus groups can provide fairly dependable data within a short time frame.

Focus groups are a technique used to find out what issues are of most concern for a community or group when little or no information is available. They allow people to answer questions, but also to bounce ideas off one another, and hence provide more detailed information as people share and elaborate on their issues.

Where large-scale objective information is needed, a minimum of four focus groups and as many as 12 may be needed to collect all the information needed. Using independent researchers to run groups and analyse data will ensure objectivity for organisation who need to maintain transparent processes.


  • Focus groups aim to discover what are the key issues that are of concern for selected groups. Discovering these issues can help determine which of a number of options is the preferred way forward, or to determine what are the concerns that would prevent a proposal going ahead. The focus group may also be undertaken to discover preliminary issues that are of concern in a group or community, and on which to base further research or consultation.


  • Focus groups should deliver detailed knowledge of the issues that concern a specific demographic or community. (See Case Study: Gold Coast Citizen Committee.pdf).


  • Highly applicable when a new proposal is mooted and little is known of community opinions.
  • Can be used to develop a preliminary concept of the issues of concern, from which a wider community survey may be undertaken.
  • Can be used for limited generalisations based on the information generated by the focus group.
  • Particularly good for identifying the reasons behind people's likes/dislikes.
  • Produces ideas that would not emerge from surveys/questionnaires, because the focus group allows opportunity for a wider range of comments.

Special considerations/weaknesses:

  • Such small groups may not be representative of the community response to an issue.
  • May be confronting for some to be open about their opinions depending on how well people know one another.
  • People must be able to operate within their comfort zones.
  • Requires careful selection to be a representative sample (similar age range or status etc.).
  • Skilled facilitators should be hired.

Resources required:

  • Venue rental
  • Engagement of moderator/facilitator
  • Recorders
  • Depending on age group, may require child care
  • May use audiovisual or audio recording of discussion.

Can be used for:

  • Showcase product, plan, policy
  • Engage community
  • Discover community issues
  • Communicate an issue

Number of people required to help organize:

  • Medium (2-12 people)
  • Individual

Audience size:

  • Medium (11-30)
  • Small (<=10)

Time required:

  • Long (> 6 months)
  • Medium (6 weeks-6 months)

Skill level/support required:

  • High (Specialist skills)


  • Low (< AUD$1,000)

Participation level:

  • Medium (Opinions noted)

Innovation level:

  • Low (Traditional)


  • Randomly select 6 to 10 people affected by or interested in the community issue to make up the focus group.
  • Book venue and arrange catering if meeting goes across a meal time.
  • Hire a facilitator.
  • Prepare preliminary questions.
  • Send reminders to participant with time, date, venue and questions.
  • Brief participants and the facilitator on the aims and objectives of the session.
  • Establish ground rules: keep focused; maintain momentum, get closure on questions (see McNamara reference).
  • Encourage shy participants if they feel anxious about revealing their opinions/feelings.
  • Engage a co-facilitator to record issues raised by individuals (may use audio, audio/visual, and/or written notes).
  • De-brief the participants and the facilitator.
  • Compile a report of proceedings for the organisers, and offer a copy to the participants.


  • Abelson, J., Forest, P-G, Eyles, J., Smith, P., Martin, E., & Gauvin, F-P. (2001) A Review of Public Participation and Consultation Methods. Canadian Centre for Analysis of Regionalization and Health http://www.regionalization.org/PPfirstpage.html [accessed 3 Jan 2002].
  • COSLA. (1998). Focusing on Citizens: A Guide to Approaches and Methods. Available at: http://www.communityplanning.org.uk/documents/Engagingcommunitiesmethods.pdf [accessed 3 Jan 2002].
  • Dawson, S., Madnerson, L. & Tallo, V.L. (1993) A Manual for the Use of Focus Groups
  • McNamara, Carter (1999) Conducting focus groups. http://www.managementhelp.org/grp_skll/focusgrp/focusgrp.htm [accessed 22 Feb 2004].
  • Flinders University Department of Public Health & South Australian Community Health Research Unit. (2000) Improving Health Services through Consumer Participation – A Resource Guide for Organisations. Commonwealth Department of Health & Aged Care. Canberra. The .pdf files are about 2/3 down this page: http://www.participateinhealth.org.au/how/practical_tools.htm [accessed 22 Feb 2004].
  • London Borough of Waltham Forest. (2001). Consultation Guidelines. http://www.lbwf.gov.uk/government/bv/consultation_guidelines.pdf [accessed 3 Jan 2002].
  • NorthwestRegionalFacilitators. (1999)., Public Participation Resource Guide September, Chapter One Public Participation Methods & Techniques. http://www.nrf.org/cpguide/index.html#tablecontents [accessed 20 Dec 2002].
  • Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries (INFDC). Boston, MA, USA. http://www.unu.edu/unupress/food2/UIN03E/UIN03E00.HTM [accessed 20 Dec 2002].

Many of the resources in the “Participatory Practices” category originated in Coastal CRC's Citizen Science Toolbox (www.coastal.crc.org.au/toolbox/). With permission, NCDD included the resource on our wiki so practitioners could expand upon the listing.

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