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Focus Group Recruiting in Health Communication Campaigns: Lessons from a Project on Risky Sexual Behavior
Unformatted Document Text:  Recruiting for Focus Groups in Health Communication Campaigns page 1 INTRODUCTION In 1998, the National Institutes of Health created the Culture and Qualitative Research Interest Group with the mission of promoting “greater awareness of the use and contribution of appropriate and rigorous qualitative methods in research on heath and disease” (National Institutes of Health, 1999). The organization of the NIH interest group, and the NIH’s subsequent publication of a report discussing qualitative approaches are indications of the increasing importance ascribed to qualitative methods in health research. There are many approaches to qualitative research, and one, the focus group, has been a useful tool since the 1940s for researchers in many areas of social science research including communication (Lindlof, 1994; Lunt, 1996; Merton, 1987; Morgan, 1988; Morrison, 1998), psychology (Piercy & Nickerson, 1996; Wilkinson, 1998;), ethnography (Agar & MacDonald, 1995) and sociology (Jaeger, Schule & Kasemmir, 1999; Smithson, 2000) as well as in more applied situations including education (Brotherson, 1994) and health care (Festervand, 1984-1985; White & Thomson, 1995). However, historically, qualitative research has not been as well funded as quantitative research. It has been asserted that quantitative research is well-regarded because it has rigorous methodological demands that require using specific procedures for all aspects of the study including sampling and that these procedures are then thoroughly explicated in written findings (Morrison, 1998:142). This focus is also indicated for qualitative research in the NIH report (1999) which states that a funding proposal for a qualitative study must include a systematic description of methods, including an in-depth discussion of sampling and the sampling plan including recruiting procedures. However, a review of literature related to focus groups reveals there is little discussion about the mechanics of sampling or about recruiting respondents from the targeted population. For example, Lunt’s (1996) detailed article explicitly discusses many aspects of focus group methodology including group composition, how to conduct the group, and suggestions for analysis; however, the article barely addresses sampling or recruiting. Another example is Krueger’s (1988) authoritative book about focus group methods in which approximately three pages are devoted to a discussion of recruitment. This paper will extend the discussion of sampling and recruiting techniques for focus group research by examining the focus group phase of the “Targeting Mass Media Campaigns for HIV Prevention” Project (Mass Media Project). The Mass Media Project’s experiences are particularly salient for several reasons. First, the focus group phase had a carefully conceived sample drawn from a well-defined target population for the qualitative portion of the study. Second, because there were three separate waves of focus groups representing a total of 38 groups, the Mass Media Project team was able to continually assess the sampling plan’s recruiting results and refine the techniques. Third, the Mass Media Project focus group phase concentrated on a population that offered special challenges in terms of identifying points of contact and in terms of encouraging respondents to fulfill their commitment to attend. Fourth, the Mass Media Project focuses on sensitive health topics that made recruiting more challenging because these topics could discourage respondent participation.

Authors: Allard, Suzie., Palmgreen, Philip. and Zimmerman, Rick.
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Recruiting for Focus Groups in Health Communication Campaigns
page 1
INTRODUCTION
In 1998, the National Institutes of Health created the Culture and Qualitative Research Interest Group
with the mission of promoting “greater awareness of the use and contribution of appropriate and rigorous
qualitative methods in research on heath and disease” (National Institutes of Health, 1999). The organization
of the NIH interest group, and the NIH’s subsequent publication of a report discussing qualitative approaches
are indications of the increasing importance ascribed to qualitative methods in health research. There are
many approaches to qualitative research, and one, the focus group, has been a useful tool since the 1940s
for researchers in many areas of social science research including communication (Lindlof, 1994; Lunt, 1996;
Merton, 1987; Morgan, 1988; Morrison, 1998), psychology (Piercy & Nickerson, 1996; Wilkinson, 1998;),
ethnography (Agar & MacDonald, 1995) and sociology (Jaeger, Schule & Kasemmir, 1999; Smithson, 2000)
as well as in more applied situations including education (Brotherson, 1994) and health care (Festervand,
1984-1985; White & Thomson, 1995).
However, historically, qualitative research has not been as well funded as quantitative research. It
has been asserted that quantitative research is well-regarded because it has rigorous methodological
demands that require using specific procedures for all aspects of the study including sampling and that these
procedures are then thoroughly explicated in written findings (Morrison, 1998:142). This focus is also
indicated for qualitative research in the NIH report (1999) which states that a funding proposal for a qualitative
study must include a systematic description of methods, including an in-depth discussion of sampling and the
sampling plan including recruiting procedures.
However, a review of literature related to focus groups reveals there is little discussion about the
mechanics of sampling or about recruiting respondents from the targeted population. For example, Lunt’s
(1996) detailed article explicitly discusses many aspects of focus group methodology including group
composition, how to conduct the group, and suggestions for analysis; however, the article barely addresses
sampling or recruiting. Another example is Krueger’s (1988) authoritative book about focus group methods in
which approximately three pages are devoted to a discussion of recruitment.
This paper will extend the discussion of sampling and recruiting techniques for focus group research
by examining the focus group phase of the “Targeting Mass Media Campaigns for HIV Prevention” Project
(Mass Media Project). The Mass Media Project’s experiences are particularly salient for several reasons.
First, the focus group phase had a carefully conceived sample drawn from a well-defined target population for
the qualitative portion of the study. Second, because there were three separate waves of focus groups
representing a total of 38 groups, the Mass Media Project team was able to continually assess the sampling
plan’s recruiting results and refine the techniques. Third, the Mass Media Project focus group phase
concentrated on a population that offered special challenges in terms of identifying points of contact and in
terms of encouraging respondents to fulfill their commitment to attend. Fourth, the Mass Media Project
focuses on sensitive health topics that made recruiting more challenging because these topics could
discourage respondent participation.


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