I recently purchased a copy of “Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research” by Richard Krueger and Mary Anne Casey. Krueger, professor emeritus at University of Minnesota, has written some of the classic books on focus group research and his co-author has conducted focus groups for government agencies and nonprofits. The experience of these two authors shines through in the pages of this well-organized, thorough text, which has a lot to recommend it:
- The operative term in the title is “applied research.” The authors talk about the purpose of the study being the “guiding star” for selecting participants, writing the question guide, deciding on moderators, and analyzing and reporting findings.
- The content is full of nuts-and-bolts suggestions, including a very practical chapter about Internet and telephone interviews
- There is an interesting chapter presenting four different approaches to focus group research: marketing research; academic research; public/nonprofit; and participatory. The chapter summarizes the evolution of the approaches and compares them in a table that will allow the readers to choose the approach that best fits the circumstances of their studies. This chapter explains why evaluators have different takes on how to conduct focus groups.
- There is a nice chapter on analyzing focus group data. It can be difficult to find step-by-step descriptions of how to analyze qualitative data, so this chapter alone is a reason to read this book. (You could generalize the process to analyzing other forms of qualitative evaluation data.)
- The final chapter provides you with responses to challenging questions about the quality of your focus group research. For example, what do you say if someone asks “Is this scientific research?” and “how do you know your findings aren’t just your subjective opinions?” Along with suggesting responses, the authors provide their own analysis of why such questions are often posed and the assumptions lurking behind them. This section will help you defend your project and your conclusions. (It would be most helpful to read this chapter before you design your project because it helps you understand the standards for a defensible project.)
I recommend this book to anyone planning to run focus groups. I have conducted my fair share of discussions, but I learned new tips to use in my next project.
Reference: Krueger RA. Casey MA. Focus groups. A practical guide for applied research. 4th ed.Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009.