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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 3 completed PSAs will be broadcast in the winter 2003 in one city, and in winter 2004 in a comparison city. The effects of these messages will be evaluated using a cross-sectional interrupted time-series design. The Mass Media Project focus groups were conducted as formative research to provide the information that guided the Project team’s development of PSAs from initial conceptualization to fully developed scripts ready for production. Each wave of the focus group research targeted the same population but the research goals of each wave were different. The First Wave of focus groups concentrated on sexual risk-taking behavior and attitudes of young adults towards safer-sex practices. These data were used to learn how young adults talked with each other about these issues, and to develop an understanding of the specific issues that were most salient to young adults. The Second Wave of focus groups explored reactions to specific elements of existing televised safer sex messages, specifically in regard to the guidelines established by SENTAR. The Third Wave of focus groups introduced the PSA concepts created by the project and examined reactions to each. While the three waves of focus groups had very different goals, all three waves involved the same target population. The sample was described as young adults between the ages of 18-26, both students and community members, whose sexual habits put them at-risk of contracting HIV-AIDS, and who exhibited personality traits of high sensation-seeking or impulsive decision making. Identifying and recruiting participants for these focus groups was a major undertaking. It entailed careful planning to identify the criteria that would align group composition with the theoretical foundations of the Project and numerous man-hours to create and employ an efficient recruiting mechanism that assured that focus group participants met the criteria. A BRIEF HISTORY OF FOCUS GROUPS Although Emory Bogardus (1926) experimented with a primitive precursor to focus groups in the mid 1920s (Kitzinger, 1994), focus group methodology is generally regarded as originating in1941 when sociologists Lazarsfeld and Merton were studying a mass communication context (Kitzinger, 1995; Merton, 1990; Morrison, 1998). At that time, they began experimenting with asking small groups of audience members to explicate their “reasons” for the reactions they had recorded on a testing apparatus while listening to a radio program (Merton, 1990). The technique was further developed over the next several years as the team worked with the US Army to gauge the effects of media created for training and to raise morale (Merton,1990, p.xvii). The following decades saw it somewhat ignored by social scientists who concentrated on quantitative methodology (Merton, 1987). However, focus groups continued to be employed in mainstream research, and in the 1980s focus groups once again took on a more crucial role (Merton, 1987; Morgan, 1988; Morrison, 1998). The renewed interest in focus groups among communication researchers can be attributed to an increased interest in finding ecologically valid ways to get deeper insights from individuals (Lunt, 1996). This

Authors: Allard, Suzie., Palmgreen, Philip. and Zimmerman, Rick.
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Recruiting for Focus Groups in Health Communication Campaigns
page 3
completed PSAs will be broadcast in the winter 2003 in one city, and in winter 2004 in a comparison city. The
effects of these messages will be evaluated using a cross-sectional interrupted time-series design.
The Mass Media Project focus groups were conducted as formative research to provide the
information that guided the Project team’s development of PSAs from initial conceptualization to fully
developed scripts ready for production. Each wave of the focus group research targeted the same population
but the research goals of each wave were different. The First Wave of focus groups concentrated on sexual
risk-taking behavior and attitudes of young adults towards safer-sex practices. These data were used to learn
how young adults talked with each other about these issues, and to develop an understanding of the specific
issues that were most salient to young adults. The Second Wave of focus groups explored reactions to
specific elements of existing televised safer sex messages, specifically in regard to the guidelines established
by SENTAR. The Third Wave of focus groups introduced the PSA concepts created by the project and
examined reactions to each. While the three waves of focus groups had very different goals, all three waves
involved the same target population. The sample was described as young adults between the ages of 18-26,
both students and community members, whose sexual habits put them at-risk of contracting HIV-AIDS, and
who exhibited personality traits of high sensation-seeking or impulsive decision making. Identifying and
recruiting participants for these focus groups was a major undertaking. It entailed careful planning to identify
the criteria that would align group composition with the theoretical foundations of the Project and numerous
man-hours to create and employ an efficient recruiting mechanism that assured that focus group participants
met the criteria.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF FOCUS GROUPS
Although Emory Bogardus (1926) experimented with a primitive precursor to focus groups in the mid
1920s (Kitzinger, 1994), focus group methodology is generally regarded as originating in1941 when
sociologists Lazarsfeld and Merton were studying a mass communication context (Kitzinger, 1995; Merton,
1990; Morrison, 1998). At that time, they began experimenting with asking small groups of audience
members to explicate their “reasons” for the reactions they had recorded on a testing apparatus while
listening to a radio program (Merton, 1990). The technique was further developed over the next several years
as the team worked with the US Army to gauge the effects of media created for training and to raise morale
(Merton,1990, p.xvii).
The following decades saw it somewhat ignored by social scientists who concentrated on quantitative
methodology (Merton, 1987). However, focus groups continued to be employed in mainstream research, and
in the 1980s focus groups once again took on a more crucial role (Merton, 1987; Morgan, 1988; Morrison,
1998). The renewed interest in focus groups among communication researchers can be attributed to an
increased interest in finding ecologically valid ways to get deeper insights from individuals (Lunt, 1996). This


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