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Are Focus Group Transcripts Necessary?

How important is it to transcribe focus group discussions? Dr. Rita O’Sullivan from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education sought an objective answer to that question. She and colleagues ran an experiment in which two co-facilitators ran seven focus groups and created summary reports of the discussions. Each co-facilitator produced a report for each focus group: one wrote a summary based on memory, handwritten notes and a transcript of the audio tape; the other wrote a summary using memory, notes and the audiotape. (Each facilitator prepared seven summaries, some using the first method and some using the second.)  Then, 18 educational professionals who were enrolled in a graduate-level educational research class compared the pairs of summaries.  Sixteen of the 18 reviewers found no substantive differences between the two versions of the summaries.

What does this mean for evaluators?  The authors concluded that their findings, although preliminary, suggest that, for the typical program evaluation setting, transcripts are not necessary to produce useful focus group discussion summaries. The findings also make it hard to justify the transcription costs for focus groups in evaluation settings – because every dollar spent on evaluation is one not spent on the program.  

Source: O’Sullivan et al. Transcribing focus group articles: Is there a viable alternative? 2004 November.  Paper presented at the joint international meeting of the American Evaluation Association and the Canadian Evaluation Society, Toronto, Canada.

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