Focusing in on Focus Groups

Focus groups can be a valuable addition to the CME practitioner’s toolbox. Use them when you are planning education programs to dive into education needs or to identify unanticipated challenges with implementing quality improvement initiatives, as a real-time formative assessment tool.

But where do you start?

Fortunately, there are plenty of solid resources to support focus group development, including Successful Qualitative Research by Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke, and this little primer by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Focus groups don’t have to be face-to-face either—online platforms offer text- or webcam-based approaches, that each have pros and cons. These options run quite quickly, transcripts are readily available, and they are often cost effective. Text-based approaches offer anonymity, which can limit both ‘groupthink’ and group domination by strong personalities—a moderating challenge in the face-to-face setting.

What kinds of questions can you ask in a focus group?

As with most qualitative research, focus groups offer opportunity for exploring issues. So questions are generally open-ended, supported by a topic guide that moves from general to more specific question. Avoid ambiguously-worded questions, or questions posed in ways that participants could interpret as threatening—a sure way to close down discussion.

Are you are thinking of trying a focus group approach with your next education or quality improvement project?