socio 3.pdf - Sociology of Health Illness Vol 16 No 1 1994 ISSN 0141-9889 The methodology of Focus Groups the importance of interaction between research

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Sociologyof Health & Illness Vol. 16 No. 11994ISSN0141-9889The methodology of Focus Groups: theimportance of interaction between researchparticipantsJenny Kitzinger(GlasgowUniversityMedia Group)Abstract What are focus groups? How are tbey distinct from ordinarygroup discussions and wbat use are tbey anyway? Tbis articleintroduces focus group metbodology, explores ways of con-ducting sucb groups and examines wbat tbis tecbnique of datacollection can offer researcbers in general and medical sociolo-gists in particular. It concentrates on tbe one feature wbicbinevitably distinguisbes focus groups from one-to-one inter-views or questionnaires - namely the interactionbetweenresearch participants-and argues for tbe overt explorationand exploitation of sucb interaction in tbe researcb process.IntroductitH]Focus groups are group discussions organised to explore a specific set ofissues sucb as people's views and experiences of contraception (Barkerand Ricb 1992, Zimmerman et al. 1990), ddnk-ddving (Bascb et al.1989),nutdtion (Crokett et al. 1990) or mental illness (Gmnig 1990). Tbegroup is 'focused' in tbe sense tbat it involves some kind of collectiveactivity - sucb as viewing a film, examining a single bealtb educationmessage or simply debating a particular set of questions. Cmdally, focusgroups are distinguisbed from tbe broader category of group interviewsby 'tbe explicit use of tbe group interaction' as researcb data (see Merton1956 and Morgan 1988: 12).Tbere is notbing new about focus groups. Tbey are first mentioned as amarket researcb tecbnique in tbe 1920s (Bascb 1987; Bogardus 1926) andwere used by Merton in tbe 1950s to examine people's reactions towartime propaganda (Merton et al. 1956). In fact it is Merton wbo isoften credited witb developing tbe 'focused interview' witb groups.(Altbougb be never actually used tbe term 'focus group' and would begto differ from some contemporary uses of tbe tecbnique) (see Merton1987).O Basil BlackweU Ltdy^itonal Board 1994. Publisbed by Blackwdl Publishers, 108 Cowley Road,Oxford OX4 UF, UK and 238 Main Stiiet, Cambri^, MA 02142, USA.
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104 Jenny KitzingerGroup discussions in tbeir widest sense bave continued to be popularas a metbod of data collection tbrougbout tbe 1970s and 80s witbin par-ticular nicbes. For example, group metbods are often used witbin 'com-munication research' sucb as in tbe evaluation of bealtb educationmatedal, and in film and television reception studies (Frazer 1987, Pbilo1990,Scblesinger et al. 1992, Comer 1990). Sucb metbods are also popu-lar in studies designed to explore people's expedences of ^rvices sucb asbealtb screening and in action research projects involving grass-roots par-ticipation (Gregory and McKie 1991, Watts and Ebbutt 1987). However,group work has not been systematically developed as a researcb tecbniquewitbin social science in general and altbougb group interviews bave oftenimplicitly informed researcb tbey are rarely acknowledged as part of tbeprocess (see Frey and Fontana 1991: 177). Even wben group work isexplicitly included as part of tbe researcb it is often simply employed as aconvenient way to illustrate a tbeory generated by otber metbods or as acost-effective tecbnique for interviewing several people at once. Readingsome sucb reports it is bard to believe tbat there was ever more tban oneperson in tbe room at tbe same time. Tbis critidsm even applies to manystudies wbich explicitly identify their metbodology as 'focus group discus-sion' - in spite of the fact tbat tbe distinguisbing feature of focus groupsis supposed to be tbe use of interaction as part of tbe researcb data.
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