Undertaking Focus Group Discussions

Focus groups were actively co-facilitated by two of the From Boys to Men project team researchers, Mary-Louise Corr leading the discussions and David Gadd note-taking but also asking follow-up questions and responding to questions posed by participants. Focus group interviews typically lasted for around one hour with groups comprising 3-8 participants. All focus groups were recorded using a digital recorder and later transcribed verbatim. Recording of the groups was important so that the research team could revisit the ways in which meaning was collectively constructed within the discussion (Bryman, 2012). Transcribing focus groups, however, can present challenges (refer to the Analysis section for further discussion regarding transcription).

A key aim for the facilitator in focus group research is to strike a balance between taking an active and passive role in the group interaction (Sim, 1998). While there was a focus group schedule (which can be found inĀ Research Materials) with particular questions to ask in all groups, participants were also given some latitude. As far as possible, the discussion was allowed to develop, enabling participants to identify issues and concerns they regarded as important. However, where the discussion developed in a way that was considered irrelevant to the research study, the researchers redirected the discussion with a further question or vignette. In most groups, participants engaged positively with the discussion. However, there were some reticent participants who, despite encouragement from the researchers, did not share as openly as others. One group of young men who had witnessed domestic abuse at home were not very forthcoming, perhaps because a youth worker remained present during the discussion. In another group, researchers encountered the problem of group members leaving, while others joined late, thus interrupting the flow of the discussion and creating additional challenges in terms of negotiating informed consent.

In the school context, the researchers had to work hard at distancing themselves from teachers who might not allow pupils to speak freely and shout out answers that came to mind, as had been requested. For example, one group of school students adhered to typical classroom behaviour by raising their hands before offering their opinion, rather than engaging in a more natural conversation as would be expected in a focus group. Attention also needs to be given to participants who appeared to dominate the discussion by inviting other participants to contribute thoughts. Managing these exchanges is aided by a second facilitator who is able to not only assess the interaction of the group but probe participants on further detail which may have escaped the first facilitator. This also brought about unanticipated reactions that shaped how the data was produced. In some discussions, young men attempted to draw David Gadd, the second facilitator, into the conversation, asking him to share his opinion on matters to do with violence between men. Conversely, answers that focused on condemning those who perpetrate violence against women were often more squarely directed towards Mary-Louise, the lead facilitator.