Discussion 1: What About Focus Groups?
Intent, Participants, Process
Qualitative research methods offer a number of appealing options for today’s researchers. For many researchers, the appeal of discovering “why rather than how many” is enough incentive to employ qualitative methods despite the additional challenges that they can bring (Alin, Dainera, & Milena, 2008, p1279). However, the decision about which type of qualitative research methodology to use is one that researchers must consider very carefully. The objective is to choose the approach that will facilitate the best understanding of the specific phenomenon being studied (Carl & Ravitch, 2016). Interviews and focus groups are among the most popular of data collection approaches for qualitative studies (Alin, Dainera, & Milena, 2008). For some, the choice of whether to use an interview or a focus group methodology is a complex one. One academic study compared interview and focus group methodologies (Alin, Dainera, & Milena, 2008). Alin, Dainera, and Milena advise researchers to cautiously consider circumstances surrounding the phenomenon, research questions, data collection goals, and other research specifics in order to achieve the most reliable results (2008).
Both focus groups and in-depth interviews can be useful in helping a researcher to identify how participants think, perceive, or feel about specific issues and topics (Alin, Dainora, & Milena, 2008). However, focus groups provide information from multiple participants with commonalities or shared experiences and in-depth interviews provide detailed information and perspectives from single participants who may have extensive knowledge about the exploratory topic (Alin, Dainora, & Milena, 2008). Both methodologies must be conducted in a manner that encourages participants to speak honestly and that assures them that their disclosures will be treated with confidentiality (Alin, Dainora, & Milena, 2008). Since qualitative studies are exploratory, the goal is for the researcher to obtain as much relevant information as possible from the one-on-one interviews or focus group discussions involved in the study (Adin, Dainora, & Milena, 2008).
Whether for in-depth interviews or for focus group discussions, participants must be selected carefully. Participants may be selected from targeted settings or organizations, referrals, and information sharing through other participants. However, there is no way to predict how easy it will be to elicit valuable information from participants until they are actually interviewed (Laureate Education, 2016). In-depth interviews can be effective in getting participants to talk about their feelings, share their opinions, and describe positive or negative experiences, especially those that may be of a private or personal nature (Alin, Dainora, & Milena, 2008). Some individuals are more comfortable in this environment. However, because other group members may have similar experiences, others may feel more supported by communicating their perspectives around individuals who have had similar problems or victories (Alin, Dainora, & Milena, 2008. Some participants may be enthusiastic communicators and others may be reluctant to share (Alin, Dainora, & Milena, 2008; Laureate Education, 2016). The challenge for the researcher is that this information will not be known in advance. In the event that some participants are hesitant to give their opinions or share their experiences, the researcher will need to be prepared with strategies to encourage active participation (Alin, Dainora, & Milena, 2008). Other requirements of the interviewer or focus group facilitator include being an active and effective listener and the ability to join in with participants to arrive at a meaningful story that gives insight into the participants’ experience and thus, to the phenomenon of study (Carl & Ravitch, 2016). To do this, the researcher must be able to integrate the various perspectives that individuals share and carefully, but effectively, describe their lived experiences (Carl & Ravitch, 2016). This task can be complicated by the fact that participants may interpret their own experiences differently than the way the researcher may have; the researcher must be able to distinguish such differences and record them appropriately (Carl & Ravitch, 2016).
Carl and Ravitch describe a number of constructs that must be considered during the process of planning and conducting interviews or focus group discussions (2016). Relational factors include planning that facilitates the establishment of trusting relationships with individual participants (Carl & Ravitch, 2016). Contextual factors include establishing the most feasible and comfortable micro and macro contexts to facilitate optimal sharing. This includes developing the best questions to get desired information (Carl & Ravitch, 2016). Non-evaluative considerations include being prepare to arrive at understanding without being judgmental about participants’ truth (Carl & Ravitch, 2016). Other considerations include person-centered approaches that appreciate the participants’ subjective experiences as being only components of their lives, reflective of a given point in time, but significant nonetheless (Carl & Ravitch, 2016). This must be accomplished within a framework that understands there will be some degree of partiality or bias on both the researchers’ and participants’ side (Carl & Ravitch, 2016).
Carl and Ravitch also provide advice on how to effectively construct questions for interviews and focus group discussions (2016). They advise researchers to judiciously select from a variety of question types that include those focused on behaviors, experiences, feelings, knowledge, sensory, and demographic characteristics (Carl & Ravitch, 2016). They additionally advise researchers to understand and maximize the influence of reactivity and to consider emic as opposed to etic perspectives (Carl & Ravitch, 2016).
Potential Use of In-depth Interviews or Focus Group Discussions
I am intrigued by both qualitative research methodologies. One topic that I have considered pertains to the perceptions, experiences, and motivations that prevent school-based speech-language pathologists (SLPs) from embracing contemporary roles and responsibilities as opposed to traditional roles that have been used for decades but that lack strong evidence of effectiveness with school-aged children and adolescents. I believe that focus group discussions would help to provide insight on barriers and factors that prevent speech therapists from making the shift into evidence-based approaches that could facilitate improved academic, social, and post-high school outcomes for students with disabilities. This method could reveal why many are not interested in conducting action research that prove whether new approaches are or are not effective. I believe a focus group discussion would provide an environment that might encourage speech pathologists to reveal more information than the standard answers pertaining to large caseloads and time constraints that are often provided in surveys. These participants might build on answers and experiences shared by other group participants. Since this phenomenon is one that is common with school-based therapists nation-wide, I believe that a focus group discussion would provide a good opportunity for the participating SLPs to feel safe and supported by the group and to possibly share real reasons behind their hesitance or lack of interest. This methodology will additionally allow me to collect considerable data on several SLPs at one time (Dickinson, Leech, Onwuegbuzie, & Zoran, 2009).
Alin, S., Dainera, G., & Milena, Z.R. (2008). Qualitative research methods: A comparison between focus-group and in-depth interview. Retrieved from http://steconomice.uoradea.ro/anale/volume/2008/v4-management-marketing/235.pdfeved
Carl, N. M. & Ravitch, S. M. (2016). Qualitative research: Bridging the conceptual, theoretical, and methodological. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications
Dickinson, W. B., Leech, N. L., Onwuegbuzie, A. J. & Zoran, A. G. (2009). A qualitative framework for collecting and analyzing data in focus group research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 9(3), 1-21.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2016). How to plan and conduct a focus group [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Saldaña, J. (2016). The coding manual for qualitative researchers (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
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