Focus Groups

What is a focus group?

Focus groups are a useful method for the development of technology as well [1]. Focus group research can be defined as ‘a way of collecting qualitative data, which—essentially— involves engaging a small number of people in an informal group discussion (or discussions), ‘focused’ around a particular topic or set of issues’ [2]. In the contextual inquiry, one type or a cross-section of key stakeholders can be brought together within this discussion group format [3]. The level of structure can range from unstructured, with the researcher announcing the topic to be discussed and allowing the participants to respond freely, to semi structured, with the researcher using a predetermined scheme to cover questions and topics presented in some order [4].

Why conduct a focus group?

Focus groups are accompanied by many advantages. The interaction that takes place between the participants often allows for the spontaneous discussion of topics, bouncing ideas off each other, comparing attitudes and sharing experiences [2]. The interaction between participants can lead to new information that wouldn’t have been discovered when using individual methods like interviews, and one can explore a variety of different opinions and visions, that wouldn’t become apparent in methods like questionnaires. Focus groups can also be conducted online and anonymously (e.g., using a chat platform), which has been found to be a feasible and valid method for collecting sensitive data [5]. Some drawbacks might be greater planning and recruitment efforts to assemble groups and the disproportionate influence of dominant participants [3].

What kind of results can focus groups generate

Focus groups can be used for several activities of the contextual inquiry, for example identifying stakeholders and their roles, describing a current situation, finding out about points of improvement, describing relevant behaviour, or uncovering attitudes and other predictors of behaviour [6]. Some examples of research that made use of focus groups in order to learn more about the context are:


[1] Avis, J.L., van Mierlo, T., Fournier, R., & Ball, G.D. (2015). Lessons Learned From Using Focus Groups to Refine Digital Interventions. JMIR Research Protocols, 4(3): e95.

[2] Wilkinson, S. (2003). Focus groups. In J.A. Smith (Ed.), Qualitative psychology: A practical guide to research methods (pp. 184-204). London: Sage.

[3] Maguire, M., & Bevan, N. (2002). User requirements analysis: A review of supporting methods. In J. Hammond, T. Gross, and J. Wesson (Eds. ), Proceedings of IFIP 17th World Computer Congress - TC13 Stream on Usability: Gaining a Competitive Edge (pp. 133-148). Deventer, The Netherlands: Kluwer B.V.

[4] Krueger, R.A., & Casey, M.A. (2001). Designing and conducting focus group interviews. In R.A. Krueger, M.A. Casey, J. Donner, S. Kirsch & J N. Maack (Eds.), Social analysis: Selected tools and techniques (pp. 4-23). Washington, DC: Social Development Family of the World Bank.

[5] Wettergren, L., Eriksson, E.L., Nilsson, J., Jervaeus, A., & Lampic, C. (2016). Online Focus Group Discussion is a Valid and Feasible Mode When Investigating Sensitive Topics Among Young Persons With a Cancer Experience. JMIR Research Protocols, 5(2): e86. doi:10.2196/resprot.5616

[6] Velsen, L. van, Wentzel, J., & van Gemert-Pijnen, J.E. (2013). Designing eHealth that Matters via a Multidisciplinary Requirements Development Approach. JMIR Research Protocols, 2(1): e21.

[7] Haun, J.N. , Nazi, K.M. , Chavez, M., Lind, J.D., Antinori, N., Gosline, R.M., & Martin, T.L. (2015). A participatory approach to designing and enhancing integrated health information technology systems for veterans: Protocol. JMIR Research Protocols, 4(1): e28.

[8] Donnelly, L.S., Shaw, R.L., & van den Akker, O.B.A. (2008). eHealth as a challenge to ‘expert’ power: a focus group study of internet use for health information and management. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 101(10), 501-506.