Why is this tool used in evaluation?
A focus group is a form of group interviewing which comprises individuals involved in a development policy or intervention. It is set up to get information concerning the people's opinions, behaviours, or to explain their expectations from the said policy or intervention. In that sense, a focus group is a fast result-driven qualitative survey.
The focus group is useful in evaluations of projects or programmes, and particularly for field studies with beneficiaries and intermediary stakeholders. When a focus group is organised after the implementation of a programme with a view to assess its impact, it helps understanding, analysing and identifying the reasons beneath the opinions expressed by the participants.
What use can be made of the focus group?
The focus group is a mean to collect information and points of view quickly. When it involves stakeholders with different points of views, it eases the expression and explanation of the discrepancies within those points of view, as well as enabling an in-depth study of the stakeholders' opinions.
Such is the case for a health sector focus group involving doctors from the private and public sectors.
Less frequently, the focus group can stand as a restitution tool at a local scale. In this case, the tool focuses on the observations and the field analyses' first conclusions.
Through the presentation of the survey's first outcomes, this type of focus group collects the reactions of the stakeholders targeted by the intervention.
In an impact analysis, the focus group can identify the various groups of stakeholders involved in the intervention, and check their reactions towards a given problem. The objective is to detect diverging opinions within a group composed of allegedly homogeneous opinions.
Using a focus group in the impact analysis of the construction of a dam, regrouping people in favour of the project for economic reasons may reveal more precise diverging opinions within the group.
The focus group is the only tool with which the evaluator can analyse and test the information given. It helps grasping the participants' behaviours, their understanding and perception of an intervention, which would not be possible with an interview. Group interviewing can collect a variety of points of view and perceptions stimulated by the interaction between participants. Each of the focus group's members is permanently driven to prove one's statement.
How is a focus group investigation carried out?
What are the conditions for use of the tool?
Before organising a focus group, the evaluator should first define the stakes and goals of the evaluation, and determine a theme to which the tool will provide answers.
The resources allocated to this task indicate the number of focus groups that the evaluator can forecast.
The categories of stakeholders targeted by the evaluation are another component to have in mind while choosing the type of focus groups, knowing that its composition depends on the objectives : an in-depth objective requires a socially homogeneous group, whereas the testing of a theme can only be realised with a group of diverging points of view.
Two types of focus groups can be organised to assess the impact of a policy on a new school course: a first one involving the course's teachers, and a second one gathering inspectors, and the school's directors and teachers.
What are the stages for the setting up of the focus group?
How is the focus group implemented?
Who implements focus groups?
The moderator implements the focus g roup. He/she should be well informed of the evaluation's topics and goals, be familiar with all the techniques relating to group interaction and speak the language of the participants.
If the evaluator does not qualify for one of these skills, he/she must be assisted by a local moderator. The latter should be introduced to the tool's goals within the context of the evaluation, and trained to foster group interaction.
Key informants are often helpful to the evaluator during the selection of participants and the identification of active participants who can foster the debate.
An observer can be invaluable to the evaluation by keeping track of the opinions expressed during the session.
How is the group interaction fostered?
Prior to the session, the moderator should meet the participants in order to motivate them in becoming actively involved in the focus group. The participants should understand the principles underlying the session's process, and think about the topic before the session. This is particularly recommended for focus groups with users and beneficiaries.
A focus group investigation is organised with countrywomen and the chief of the village has the responsibility to recruit them. In this context, the moderator should benefit from a quick meeting with the women to make himself/herself known, establish a relaxed atmosphere and suggest the first topics to reflect upon.
Focus groups are not just the sum of individual interviews. Thus, the moderator must always initiate and maintain a dynamic interaction between the participants.
A session can be organised in a reactive way, where participants react to the evaluator's analysis, information, etc. as well as in a pro-active way (the information and testimonies of the participants support the development of collective analyses and suggestions).
The moderator should organise the session into stages, including a mid-term debriefing to the group.
How to keep track of the information?
This stage should not be under-estimated for focus groups conducted in a local language. It consists of the transcription of a session verbatim from the notes which have been taken during the session and its recording (if it has been scheduled).
In the absence of recording, it can be interesting to organise a debriefing session, in order to validate the content of the focus group's transcription.
Example of the focus group investigation in a country evaluation: the Benin mission
Four focus groups were set up to bring elements of explanation to one of the evaluation questions (relative to the decrease of the number of patients going to the health centres which have benefited from the EC's assistance). The evaluation team decided to compose and conduct them differently, in order to check the conditions in which focus group investigations should be prepared and carried out in country evaluations.
Two focus groups with beneficiaries were conducted by local moderators ; 2 members of the evaluation team were responsible for the moderation of 2 focus groups: one involving doctors from the public and private sector of the Cotonou district, and another involving midwives and nurses from Cotonou.
Conclusions from the course of the focus groups and their outcomes can be drawn: the focus group is an efficient collection tool when it gathers socially homogeneous groups within the same socio-professional category. Yet, caution should be taken when participants share too close experiences about the questions under consideration. Their testimonies may turn out to be too identical (for that reason, the focus group with the doctors worked better than the one involving the midwives and the nurses) .
The different course taken by the two focus groups with beneficiaries points out that a particular care should be taken for the selection (when recruiting the) of participants. For example, the moderator should ensure the presence of active participants within the group, in order to foster participation (the moderator should also check that leaders do not impose their points of view on the rest of the group). The moderator should also motivate the participants by meeting them a day before the meeting
What are the preconditions for its use?
What are the advantages and limitations of the tool?