Focus explores the advantages and disadvantages of focus group

Focus group is a unique qualitative research method
introduced by Emory Bogardus in early 1926. The core aim of this social
psychologist was to develop a method that will offer a way to listen to people
and learn from them. Over the past years, focus groups have been utilized by
community health workers, Marxist revolutionaries, feminist activists and
social activists in advancing their causes and concerns (Wilkinson, 2004). Many
social science researchers go for focus group methods due to its ability to
offer quick results with a dependable generation of complex information at a
low cost within a less time. Furthermore, they have a collective nature that
suits people who are unable to articulate their experiences thereby providing a
collective power to marginalized members of the community such as women and the
youth (Morgan, 2009). Due to its foundational involvement in social sciences, this
paper explores the advantages and disadvantages of focus group while
highlighting the most appropriate context where it could be used in community
work and youth.

The
Nature and Context of the Focus Group Method

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According to Williams, Clausen, Robertson, Peacock
& McPherson (2012), at its lowest levels, a focus group may be described as
an informal discussion among a selected group of individuals about a specific
theme. For example, a group of youths in a community social hall involved in a
discussion on the effects of gambling, women waiting for a health care provider
to discuss the contraceptives as a family planning option. From a community
perspective, good examples include a group of community members gathered in a school
field and discussing the impacts of alcoholism in their families. As seen in
above examples, group focus is a collective conversation that may include small
or large groups of people and arranged to evaluate specific sets of
community-influencing topics (Williams, Clausen, Robertson, Peacock &
McPherson, 2012). As highlighted by Krueger & Casey (2000), the primary
goal of a focus group is to describe the meaning of a specific group of
individuals and to gain an understanding of a specific inflicting issue from
their perspective. However, it important highlighting that focus groups do not
aim at reaching a consensus on the disused subjects, they only encourage
diverse responses that offer a better understanding of perceptions, opinions,
attitudes, and behavior of the involved participants in relation to the specific
research issues (Krueger & Casey, 2000).

Practically, focus groups research method shifts the
control of interaction form the researcher into the hands of the community
members or participants. The interaction between the involved members
substitutes the interaction between the moderator and the participants hence
offering a good platform for understanding the viewpoints and perception of the
community hence providing a societal voice to the voiceless. In so doing, the
focus group methodology reflects aa useful strategy for examining and exploring
what community members think, why they think they way they do, how they do it
and their expectation. This is achieved without coercing them into reaching a
consensus of making tough decisions. In that way, a focus group is regarded as
the ideal approach for examining and examining points of view, beliefs,
community stories and concerns of people in a given setup.

 

 

Advantages of Focus Group

Socially-oriented

Focus groups are socially-orientated research
method. According to Wilkinson (2004), focus groups help in capturing real-life
information from a social setting hence giving the moderator a better
opportunity to understand the community needs and vulnerabilities. The
intercommunication between members in the group provides an overview of the
real issues in the society (Wilkinson, 2004). For example, if the topic is on
crime, the community members are willing to highlight different areas in the
community that are prone to crimes while offering examples of incidents that
have happened in the past. In real life situations, focus groups helped social
workers in unearthing youth criminal activities in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
The research proved that unemployment and high school dropouts were the primary
catalysts of crime among the youths. Crime is a social problem that should be
approached through a socially-oriented research approach such as focus groups.

High
validity

Redmond & Curtis (2009) highlights that focus
groups have high face validity. This implies that they are accurate in
measuring what they are intended to evaluate. Focus group enables the research
to gain insight on a wider array of views regarding the people and the specific
topic. Furthermore, the moderator has an opportunity to assess how the
community members are handling the issue at hand. For example, there has been
controversy on impacts of contraceptives and family planning pills on the
health of women. Therefore, community health workers may hold focus groups to
understand how both women and men in the society perceive the family planning
strategy (Redmond & Curtis, 2009). In this exercise, researchers are
offered with rich and detailed information about the impression, thoughts,
feelings, perceptions, and understanding of people on the specific issue. The
interaction provides accuracy in the information and concerns being evaluated.

Flexible
and Quick Results

Focus groups provide researchers with the ability to
evaluate why community members hold certain views in regard to a particular
topic. Additionally, it creates a ground for comparing diverse views held by
community members. For example, if the community is affected by youth crime,
some may suggest that placement of a police patrol station in the area would lower
the vices. However, another group in the same gathering may feel that presence
of police will escalate the issue and many youths will be incarcerated for no
good reason. The flexibility of tilting perception to have a good understanding
of the core problem makes focus group method an important choice when it comes
to dealing with social science topics.

Major problems in research originate from scenarios
where the conducted exploration cannot feel the gap in the study group. However,
focus groups have the ability to explore the gap between what the community
members say and what they do. From a community perspective, a social research
may intend to survey the effects of placing a sugarcane processing plant in a
given area in the community. However, due to environmental and health effects associated
with air pollution, the society may be against it. Nevertheless, with focus
group methodology, the researchers are given the nitty gritty of why the
community is opposing the project. For example, issues related to skin itching,
skin cancer or respiratory difficulties may originate from the plan waste
materials hence resulting in more social problems such as disability and
dependence. For that, focus groups provide quick results without taking corners
on social related issues hence boosting faster reactions from policymakers.

Less
expensive in terms of money and time

According to Morgan (2009), focus groups allow
diverse lines of communication among involved participants that entirely save
time and money for the researcher. Many people find face-to-face or one-on-one
interaction scary and intimidating, however, focus group creates a safe
environment where such people can confidently share their beliefs, perceptions,
ideas, and attitudes in the face of other people. Short time is used in
interacting with a large group of people hence lowering the costs that would be
incurred in interviewing or interacting with everyone one individual at a time.
The foundational platform of the focus group is an idea for individuals from
ethnic minority groups that may feel intimated by race, ethnicity or voiceless
nature in the community (Morgan, 2009). To that end, the inclusivity of focus
group research method reveals information and ideas that the moderator or the
researcher would have missed from individual interviews.

Disadvantages of Focus Groups

Less
Control by the Moderator

In focus groups, the researcher has less or no
control over the discussion. Once the discussion is stated, community members
take up the control and drive the conversation to their wish. The activity mutes
the position of the moderator as the connection between the participants is
influenced social cues that are well-known to them. For example, if youths are
talking about ghetto crime, they may use a language or body expressions that
make it had for the researcher to control the discussion.

 

 

Difficulty
in Data Analysis

As seen above, focus groups are created by
individuals who originate in the same environment. Therefore, their expression
of data and some ideas may be difficult for the research to interpret and
analyze. For example, some language cues may have diverse meaning in different
societies; therefore, one interpretation may mean a completely different thing
in another community. For example, some communities perceive family planning
contraceptives as fertility blockage pills to their women. Others perceive them
as unethical actions against God’s reproduction ability. Finally, health
practitioners see it as a way of controlling population based on social issues
in the affected family. Thus, the indifferent styles of delivering ideas make
it difficult for the research to analyze the information and make effective
reports.

Krueger & Casey (2000) presents that focus
groups are not effective on some research topics. For example, topics that
touch on too personal topics such as financial status, domestic violence,
infertility, sexuality and HIV/AIDS may be difficult to analyze using this
method. People are reluctant in expressing opinions or even discussing topics
that touch on personal issues and experiences in front of other community
members. For that reason, focus groups may get ineffective in studying in-depth
topics such personal experiences with illness or infertility before a group of
other colleagues. In this context, group dynamics take a position in
determining the free flow of information between the members (Krueger &
Casey, 2000). For example, if dealing with a women alone group, there is a high
possibility of information flow being achieved without barriers as opposed to
involving a gender missed discussion group.

 

 

Shallow
Understanding of Personal Issues

Williams, Clausen, Robertson, Peacock &
McPherson (2012) argues that focus groups are criticized for providing a
shallow conception of personal issues when compared with other methods such as
individual interviews. As noted above, personal experiences and experiences may
not be exposed during focus group discussion; however, if the same is tried in
individual interviews, a respondent will be free to share personal experiences (Williams,
Clausen, Robertson, Peacock & McPherson, 2012). For example, a qualitative
study on the life and experiences of Muslim youths in the United States proved
that individual interviews were more effective than focus group discussions.
The core reason was based on the fact that participants were capable of
expressing their emotional experiences as far as racial segregation is
concerned. However, in the focus group discussion, most of them were not
comfortable as some members were more likely to create a chain of rumors from
the ideas dispersed by one community member.

Intimidation
of Members

Focus groups may be created from diverse
personality, race, and status in the society. However, the presence of
authoritative bodies or aggressive personalities may negatively influence the
expression of other group members. Additionally, the social context of the involved
focus group may have a significant influence on the issues related to social
conformity, desirability, and disclosure of some community secrets. Similarly,
the presence of some group members may make some members too intimidated to
speak. For example, having a friend of a local chief or police officer in the
group may affect the ability of youths to unleash the truths about criminal
activities in the society. For that reason, the quality of data or information
acquired from focus group discussion is negatively affected by the context and
characteristic of the focus group members.

Conclusion

Despite the criticism explored with regard to focus
group, a social cost-benefit analysis proves that they are more effective in
understanding the thoughts, the perception, beliefs, practices, and norms of
the community. Consequently, the research is given the opportunity to generate
evidence-based interventions and recommendations that have the ability to solve
the social vices experienced by the group. Therefore, social workers, community
health workers, and government social league departments should consider focus
group methodology as an effective option in examining and understanding their
communities.