What is it?
Grouped qualitative interviews can be either group interviews or focus group interviews. The difference lies in the purpose of the interview. Group interviews focus on the dynamics of and the specific context of the group. Ideally, a group interview consists of a teamwork exercise, which enables the interviewers to focus on the group dynamics. The method is suitable for gathering knowledge about a group of co-workersâ€™ ability to work together. In a focus group interview the objective is to assemble a group of people and juxtapose their beliefs and values. An interviewer who keeps track of the topics in the interview guide facilitates the interview. This method is suitable for searching for new possibilities or effectively uncovering the beliefs and values of a group.
How is it done?
Limit the challenge in a field of inquiry
You begin by finding out exactly what you want to know something about.
Compose the interview guide
Based on the field of inquiry you establish the plan for the interview.
Find the relevant informants and set up the interview
It is important to find a date where all the relevant informants are available. It is a good idea to have one or several observers present to take notes and make observations along the way.
Conduct the interviews
Remember that you are facilitating the interview for your informants. This means that you have to take care of the practicalities: food, beverages and breaks along the way. It is also your responsibility to stay focused and stimulate the discussion with questions. An introductory round is good if the participants donâ€™t know each other beforehand. An interview usually takes from 45 min to 3 hours.
Analyze the material
During the analysis it is important to keep your specific challenge in mind. Look to where your informants agreed and where they didnâ€™t. If you conducted a group interview you focus on the quality of the teamwork. If you conducted a focus group interview you focus on the beliefs and values that were discussed.
Use your new knowledge constructively
Your new insights into the beliefs and values of the focus group or the teamwork of the group can be used strategically to improve on your product/service. The new knowledge can also be used as a basis for further ethnographic inquiries.
What does it take?
Grouped qualitative interviews can be conducted in 2-3 days depending on the number of interviews and the amount of participants.
- A quiet room to conduct the interview in.
- 3-5 participants with relevant knowledge about the challenge.
- An interview guide containing the subjects your will be discussing or the teamwork exercise.
- Food and beverages to be consumed along the way.
- A video camera or recorder can pick up on details the observers didnâ€™t notice during the interview.
The method demands 1-4 employees. They donâ€™t necessarily need to have any specific skills but the method is furthered by an empathic and attentive approach towards the informants and a knack for writing things down quickly. Having more than 1 observer will enable comparative analysis.
Case 1: Group interviews
Maria is a team leader in a store, which sells sporting goods. She has a team of employees under her but lately there has been an unpleasant atmosphere in the store. Maria decides to use group interviews to find out why.
Maria discusses the situation with her supervisor and they compose the interview guide together. It contains a couple of teamwork exercises. She calls a staff meeting and makes sure the employees are comfortable. They are to complete the exercise of describing how they would prefer the store to be run. They are also to describe their own function in the store. The participants discuss the task but the groups all maintain that their function is the most important.
After the interview Maria holds a meeting with her supervisor and presents the findings from the group interview. It seems the employees have lost sight of the general workflow. Maria and her supervisor consider how to fix this.
As a result of the group interview Maria establishes a rotation schedule where the employees rotate through the different functions in the store. The employees will gain a broader understanding of the workflow in the store and a better appreciation of the different work groupsâ€™ functions.
Case 2: Focus group interviews
Peter has a summer job as an assistant at a hostel, which is especially used by foreign motorcyclists. He notices that many of the motorcyclists are performing minor repairs to their bikes while they are staying at the hostel. However, many of the motorcyclists have expressed that they lack the proper tools, a lift for the motorcycles and a workmanâ€™s sink to wash their hands after the repairs. Peter suggests using focus group interviews to gain a general view of the challenge and come up with possible solutions to it.
Peter and the owner of the hostel discuss possible improvements of the services offered at the hostel. They agree to propose the addition of an open workshop. Peter composes an interview guide as a plan for the focus group interview and finds 5 residents of the hostel to participate in the interview. He schedules the interview in the breakfast room and prepares tea and coffee. Firstly Peter bids the participants welcome and ensures a comfortable and calm atmosphere before he presents the plan for the interview. He also arranges for a colleague to observe the session and take notes along the way. 1 Â½ hour later they have discussed the proposition and the motorcyclists are enthusiastic about the idea.
After the focus group interview Peter and his colleague put together a summary of the points raised. They present the new knowledge for the owner and Peter stresses that there isnâ€™t an actual problem but the hostel would be far more popular with the workshop. He also presents a list of the necessary tools and recommendations for the layout of the workshop.
As a result of the focus group interview Peter and his colleague transform an old shed next to the hostel into an open workshop. The workshop is equipped with the necessary tools and facilities to perform minor repairs and the motorcyclists are pleased with the new addition to the hostel.
More on the method
Further readings on structures interviews:
Dawson, Susan et. al. (1992) – Introduction & Team leader focus group training, pp. 1-37 i: The Focus Group Manual: Methods for Social Research in Tropical Diseases No. 2. – Geneve: UNDP/World Bank/WHO
Kitzinger, Jenny & Barbour, Rosaline S. (1999) – Introduction: The Challenge and Promise of Focus Groups, s. 1-20 i: Developing Focus Group Research. Politics, Theory and Practice – London: Sage Publishing
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