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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 4 has changed the status of focus groups as a research methodology. Although focus groups are frequently used as formative or ancillary research for quantitative work, the recognition of the value of qualitative methods in general, and focus groups in particular, has led to focus groups being used more often as a stand- alone method (Lindlof, 1987:XI; Lunt, 1996; Morgan, 1996). FOCUS GROUP CHARACTERISTICS Focus groups are a type of group interview whose data is derived from the communication between respondents and between researcher and respondents (Kitzinger, 1995) during a simulation of social or conversational communication (Delli Carpini & Williams 1994; Lunt, 1996). The conversational nature makes focus groups especially well suited to examine how knowledge and ideas may develop and be constructed within a specific cultural context (Kitzinger, 1995). It also allows the researcher to view cultural values or group norms, and to note shared and common knowledge through the analysis of the narrative that develops within the group (Kitzinger, 1995). Mechanically speaking, an individual focus group typically is composed of 6-10 people who exhibit a common characteristic that is relevant to the purpose of the study and is conducted by a moderator who is working from a protocol that guides conversation (Delli Carpini & Williams, 1994). The idea is to create a non- threatening environment that facilitates a discussion that explores individual perceptions about specific areas of interest (Krueger, 1988:18). The moderator ensures that the conversation stays on-topic and also encourages individuals to express the full range of opinions about the issue (Lunt, 1996). The precise definition of a focus group is often debated and can appear to be a mix of contradictions (Agar & MacDonald, 1995). For example, descriptions of focus group research often juxtapose concepts such as careful planning against a permissive environment, or controlled research against naturalistic inquiry. While this can be confusing, the paradoxes describe the focus group’s very dynamic research environment. It is an environment that allows respondents to thoroughly explore and clarify their views in their own vocabulary, creating their own questions and setting their own priorities (Kitzinger, 1995), while still addressing the prescribed issues determined by the researcher. The latter characteristic was particularly important for the Mass Media Project because the three waves of focus groups were essential to identify the vocabulary and priorities of the target population. The following four characteristics are used to better differentiate focus groups from other types of research interviews (Merton, 1990) (the application of these characteristics to the Mass Media Project is noted): • The people are known to be involved in a particular situation. In the case of the Mass Media Project, the young adults are sexually active and are involved in relationships and situations that place them at-risk for contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted disease.

Authors: Allard, Suzie., Palmgreen, Philip. and Zimmerman, Rick.
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Recruiting for Focus Groups in Health Communication Campaigns
page 4
has changed the status of focus groups as a research methodology. Although focus groups are frequently
used as formative or ancillary research for quantitative work, the recognition of the value of qualitative
methods in general, and focus groups in particular, has led to focus groups being used more often as a stand-
alone method (Lindlof, 1987:XI; Lunt, 1996; Morgan, 1996).
FOCUS GROUP CHARACTERISTICS
Focus groups are a type of group interview whose data is derived from the communication between
respondents and between researcher and respondents (Kitzinger, 1995) during a simulation of social or
conversational communication (Delli Carpini & Williams 1994; Lunt, 1996). The conversational nature makes
focus groups especially well suited to examine how knowledge and ideas may develop and be constructed
within a specific cultural context (Kitzinger, 1995). It also allows the researcher to view cultural values or
group norms, and to note shared and common knowledge through the analysis of the narrative that develops
within the group (Kitzinger, 1995).
Mechanically speaking, an individual focus group typically is composed of 6-10 people who exhibit a
common characteristic that is relevant to the purpose of the study and is conducted by a moderator who is
working from a protocol that guides conversation (Delli Carpini & Williams, 1994). The idea is to create a non-
threatening environment that facilitates a discussion that explores individual perceptions about specific areas
of interest (Krueger, 1988:18). The moderator ensures that the conversation stays on-topic and also
encourages individuals to express the full range of opinions about the issue (Lunt, 1996).
The precise definition of a focus group is often debated and can appear to be a mix of contradictions
(Agar & MacDonald, 1995). For example, descriptions of focus group research often juxtapose concepts
such as careful planning against a permissive environment, or controlled research against naturalistic inquiry.
While this can be confusing, the paradoxes describe the focus group’s very dynamic research environment. It
is an environment that allows respondents to thoroughly explore and clarify their views in their own
vocabulary, creating their own questions and setting their own priorities (Kitzinger, 1995), while still
addressing the prescribed issues determined by the researcher. The latter characteristic was particularly
important for the Mass Media Project because the three waves of focus groups were essential to identify the
vocabulary and priorities of the target population.
The following four characteristics are used to better differentiate focus groups from other types of
research interviews (Merton, 1990) (the application of these characteristics to the Mass Media Project is
noted):
The people are known to be involved in a particular situation. In the case of the Mass Media
Project, the young adults are sexually active and are involved in relationships and situations that
place them at-risk for contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted disease.


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