Focus group guidelines



What is a Focus Group?

The Focus Group (here in after FG) is a method of targeted interviews within a small group aimed at encouraging a discussion about specific topics.

It is a classical tool to obtain good quality research.

Basic principle: the social interaction created during group interviews, is an effective reproduction of the process through which people form their own opinions.


How long does a FG last?

Each FG session is usually organized in two sessions of approximately two to three hours. Do not plan more than three FG sessions.

It is necessary that the whole group speak about each proposed topic.

Important: Do not take breaks nor stop the dynamic and the discussion during a session.


How many participants are there in one FG?

INV groups will be composed of nine people, in order to enable each participant both to speak enough and to talk about his/her ideas and also to obtain many and varied perceptions.


Who are the participants?

INV FGs should be composed of social professionals chosen according to their experience and appropriate characteristics, in order to provide meaningful perceptions, which are shared with the social workers belonging to the same service and to other similar services.


Should the discussion be recorded?

During every session, the assistant moderator must accurately transcribe all discussions and each session must be recorded byan audio support too.


Why not use a grid of questions?

The moderator is external to the group and leads the discussion through a grid with open questions.

Focus group participants will not have a chance to see the questions they are being asked. Therefore, to make sure they understand and can fully respond to the questions posed, questions should be:

  • Short and to the point
  • Focused each on a single dimension
  • Unambiguously worded
  • Non-threatening or embarrassing
  • Conceived in such a way that they cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” answer (use “why” and “how” to make the questions)


How should the grid be designed?

  • The grid must be flexible
  • The grid needs to be reshaped both in its form and content during the FG, according to the specific context;
  • The grid can be enriched with further questions or new themes that will emerge from the discussion.
  • Use a track of open questions; the track should be as less structured as possible; the track should contain themes, issues, topics to deal with the group.
  • The order of topics should look like a sort of funnel: it should go from themes that are more general to topics that are more detailed and the most important topics should be tackled in the central part of the discussion.



There are three types of focus group questions:

  1. Engagement questions: introduce participants to and make them comfortable with the topic of discussion
  2. Exploration questions: get to the heart of the discussion
  3. Exit question: check to see if anything was missed in the discussion


Who conducts a FG?

A team consisting of a moderator and an assistant moderator conducts the focus group. The moderator facilitates and leads the discussion; the assistant takes notes and runs the tape recorder.


The moderator

The moderator of the FG has the task of introducing the theme and leading participants to discuss the most interesting topics. He/she ensures that participants cannot digress, circumvent or misunderstand the meaning of the questions.

He/she has to avoid any kind of competitiveness within the group. A good moderator must create a confidant and a comfortable atmosphere, encourage everyone and be patient, avoid any hierarchical, aggressive or authoritarian attitude. He/she must create a good atmosphere within the group that will facilitate easy relations, discussions and general understanding.

A good moderator does not need to talk too. His work consists in encouraging participants to talk; he must prevent anyone from dominating the group and the discussion.

The focus group moderator:

  • Can listen attentively with sensitivity and empathy
  • Is able to listen and think at the same time
  • Believes that all group participants have something to offer
  • Has adequate knowledge of the topic
  • Can keep personal views and ego out of the discussion
  • Can appropriately manage challenging group dynamics
  • Fixes the rules for cellular phones and for breaks


The assistant moderator

The assistant moderator must be able to do the following:

  • run a tape recorder during the session
  • take a concise but complete note of body language (proxemics and kinesics of the participants) or other little subtle but relevant clues
  • not participate in the discussion
  • he/she asks questions when invited

If it is necessary and required by the moderator, he/she can make an oral summary of the discussion so far.

Both moderator and assistant moderator are responsible for their reception.



1 ° Create a spirit of cooperation within the group. Teamwork will be more effective and more enjoyable if everyone feels that the other members of the group help and encourage him or her.

Dedicate sufficient time to prepare the session of FG at home alone and then together with the assistant moderator. This means that you must be clear in your mind what the working session aims for as a result.

Therefore, it is necessary you anticipate every kind of problem that may arise during the FG.

It is necessary to explain to the participants that are working in a group,that they share their experiences and learn from others.

One should avoid “leading” questions or those that already contain the answers and ensure that the questions have been well understood. Be careful not to affect the participants with your opinions.

Because it is necessary to record the meeting, in order to have a faithful and accurate account to be reviewed, explain to the participants that the meeting will be recorded and that the individual views will remain confidential.


Some practical advice

At the beginning

Sitting in a circle helps participants feel all on the same level and everyone can see the others; moderator and assistant moderator must sit in the circle as well.

  • At the beginning, both the moderator and the assistant moderator must introduce themselves by giving their name and saying something about their work and life. Then each participant must introduce her/himself. Five minutes each is the maximum time available
  • At the beginning of the session, moderator should explain objectives and working methods: why we make a FG, what will happen and how long it will take.
  • One needs to explain that it is very important they tell their real opinions; FG is neither an exam nor a competition.
  • Tell participants that it is very important to listen to the others in order to get excellent results.
  • Remind participants that everyone is invited to talk but it is necessary to speak one person at a time, with no overlap.

During the meeting

  • Try to use open questions or give at least two possibilities:

“Is it ok for you or not?”, “What do you think: is it clear or not?”-

  • Ask if everyone agrees and if there are any other opinions.
  • Involve the whole group during the discussion; use a glance to embolden people that do not speak.
  • Allow everyone to reach his/her own conclusions during the discussion.
  • Although there is always little time, it would be better not to move from one stage to another of the discussion too quickly.
  • Things to avoid:

  - giving your point of view or what is your interest;

  - to speak too much and to lead the conversation;

  - to contradict participants;

  - one or more participants monopolize the discussion

At the end

  • Don’t forget to thank everyone and remind him or her of the next appointment, if any.

Immediately after the focus group Moderator and Assistant Moderator:

  • Draw a diagram of the seating arrangement
  • Check the tape recording
  • Take note of themes, hunches, interpretations and ideas
  • Compare the focus group to other groups
  • Label and file notes, tapes and other materials

Data analysis

The focus of the report should be put on topical subjects treated in FG.

The method to be followed is based on careful reading of texts written and transcribed according to a deductive approach starting from single opinions to building general concepts and categories.

Text analysis follows a decomposition and segmentation process of the sentences, by reducing them into parts to which the same codes are attributed for equal meanings.

Then through a gradual integration and selection process, of codes linked to similar meanings, go on and construct concepts that are more general.

Following an inductive approach, integrating, and selecting the concepts, the next step are the interpretative categories that include them and suggest uniformity of meaning.

These categories will allow one to formulate generalizable interpretations of wider situations and contexts.

Focus Group Analysis Tips

When you analyse focus group data, remember to consider:

  • That since a variety of words and phrases are used, it will be necessary to detect the degree of similarity among these responses.
  • One should take into consideration the context in order to interpret the sentences.