In-depth Group Interviews

Focus Group

In-depth group interviews, also known as focus groups, can be used to gain a fuller understanding of the impact of an intervention and generally ask What, How and Why?

Focus group (4-12 participants)

Focus groups use topic guides with open-ended questions asked to a group of participants. They are useful when examining the attitudes and opinions of groups. The comments of one participant may stimulate the ideas of others, allowing participants to interact with each other, as well with the interviewer.

Ideally, the group size should be 4-8 participants but it is worth inviting up to 10 people to allow for drop outs. If it has been difficult to get at least 4 people to attend then one-to-one interviews may be more appropriate. Focus groups need a strong lead interviewer to ensure that all members of the group take part in the discussion and that one or two members don't dominate.

Face-to-face Groups

When carrying out focus groups it's important to think about the background of the people invited to take part. In order to encourage an open discussion the participants need to perceive themselves as similar to the other members of the group. How you select who to invite largely depends on what you are researching. For example, in some cases groups can work well with mixed gender and ages but this may not be appropriate if you're investigating a particular behaviour that is predominantly associated with a specific demographic. Several focus groups will need to be undertaken with different groups of people to ensure that a range of views are captured.

Face-to-face focus groups need to take place somewhere accessible and within an environment that the participants feel comfortable. This could be a community centre, a hotel or a research viewing facility. The seats should be arranged in a circle and refreshments provided. To maintain engagement with all the participants the focus groups should last no more than 90 minutes.


  • Participants' comments often stimulate a wide variety of ideas amongst the group
  • Can explore the attitudes and opinions that groups have about road safety, rather than just those of individuals
  • For children under eight years of age, interviewing pairs of friends is successful as their familiarity stimulates ideas
  • Process of direct involvement can have a positive effect on how participants perceive the programme
  • Quick and relatively inexpensive to run compared to an experimental study


  • Discussion can be hindered if some participants are seen to be 'experts'
  • Recruitment of those who willingly volunteer can bias the discussion group by excluding those people who do not usually like to participate in groups
  • Requires a skilled facilitator to keep discussions on topic
  • Several separate focus groups are necessary to explore significantly different samples (e.g. young children and adolescents)
  • Peer pressure can introduce conformity to the opinions of the group, making some participants reluctant to offer their genuine views
  • Relatively expensive and time consuming to analyse the discussions

Online Groups

Online focus groups use a secure internet chat room for a discussion to take place. They should be specifically set up for the purpose of the focus group and only be open for the duration of the focus group.


  • Using the internet can overcome the expense and logistical complications of participants from different areas travelling to a single location
  • On-screen displays lessen the influence of the interviewer's personal characteristics
  • Transcripts of the discussion can be automatically printed to vastly reduce the time needed for analysis
  • Novelty of the experience will, for some, stimulate both participation and further IT skills
  • Relative ease of administration allows several groups to be run in quick succession


  • Allowing children access to on-line discussion groups requires careful consideration of all the security implications
  • Anonymity of method can allow participants to create a false impression of themselves and their views
  • Technology may overshadow the purpose of the discussion
  • Direct, secret messages between participants cannot always be monitored
  • Restricted participation for those who cannot type quickly (or at all)
  • Discussions can be slow to begin
  • Content can be difficult to follow due to the variation in the speed of participants' responses
  • Requires a skilled facilitator to keep discussions on topic
  • Participants (particularly younger groups) sometimes see the facilitator as an authority figure to whom they should direct their comments, rather than interacting as a group
  • Technical problems can interrupt the discussion
  • Difficult to explore individual comments in more detail.