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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 5 • The researcher has done a content or situational analysis that has allowed him to create a set of hypotheses about the situation. Prior research by the Mass Media Project investigators provided an understanding of who to target among young adults to reach those at greater risk for HIV infection, and prior research has also established the characteristics of messages that will reach these individuals in a mass media context. • A guide or protocol for the interviewer/moderator/facilitator is developed to define the relevant criteria for discussion and questioning. The Mass Media Project created a protocol for each wave of focus groups to assure that key issues were addressed with each group and that there was consistency in presentation of the discussion. • The conversation explores the subjective experience of the participants to a known situation to get their definition of that situation. In Wave One of the Mass Media Project, the conversation centered on risky sexual behavior. In Wave Two, the conversation revolved around existing safer sex PSAs that were used as stimuli material. In Wave Three, the discussions were focused on the scripts that the Project team had developed for new PSAs. Frequently, a focus group study is designed to include a series of groups that discuss a specific issue. For example all three waves of the Mass Media Project’s focus groups concentrated on gaining information about ways to encourage condom usage as a safer sex practice to protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Depending on the purposes of the project and the financial resources available, focus group studies can have only a few groups or as many as fifty. Most focus group studies have four to six focus groups, a number that researchers justify by saying that data has become saturated and there is little new information after the first couple groups (Zeller, 1993). However, if there are a larger number of population segments to be studied or a greater range of topics to be covered, then more groups will be needed to reach saturation. More groups will also be needed if there is not a high level of standardization in terms of topics covered. FOCUS GROUP LIMITATIONS AND BENEFITS Focus group research does have limitations, including a setting that is less natural than one that would be found with participant observation, and a level of control that is not as great as one would have with an individual interview (Delli Carpini & Wiliams, 1994). Additionally, unless there is a large number of representative groups, focus groups ordinarily cannot be used to generalize the results to a larger population, although researchers often make this mistake. Some feel that the range of topics that can be addressed in a focus group might be limited by the fact that self-disclosure is required and there could be problems in touching on more sensitive issues (Morgan, 1996). However this weakness has not been empirically proven and many researchers have written about

Authors: Allard, Suzie., Palmgreen, Philip. and Zimmerman, Rick.
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Recruiting for Focus Groups in Health Communication Campaigns
page 5
The researcher has done a content or situational analysis that has allowed him to create a set of
hypotheses about the situation. Prior research by the Mass Media Project investigators provided
an understanding of who to target among young adults to reach those at greater risk for HIV
infection, and prior research has also established the characteristics of messages that will reach
these individuals in a mass media context.
A guide or protocol for the interviewer/moderator/facilitator is developed to define the relevant
criteria for discussion and questioning. The Mass Media Project created a protocol for each wave
of focus groups to assure that key issues were addressed with each group and that there was
consistency in presentation of the discussion.
The conversation explores the subjective experience of the participants to a known situation to
get their definition of that situation. In Wave One of the Mass Media Project, the conversation
centered on risky sexual behavior. In Wave Two, the conversation revolved around existing safer
sex PSAs that were used as stimuli material. In Wave Three, the discussions were focused on
the scripts that the Project team had developed for new PSAs.
Frequently, a focus group study is designed to include a series of groups that discuss a specific
issue. For example all three waves of the Mass Media Project’s focus groups concentrated on gaining
information about ways to encourage condom usage as a safer sex practice to protect against HIV and other
sexually transmitted diseases. Depending on the purposes of the project and the financial resources
available, focus group studies can have only a few groups or as many as fifty. Most focus group studies have
four to six focus groups, a number that researchers justify by saying that data has become saturated and
there is little new information after the first couple groups (Zeller, 1993). However, if there are a larger
number of population segments to be studied or a greater range of topics to be covered, then more groups
will be needed to reach saturation. More groups will also be needed if there is not a high level of
standardization in terms of topics covered.
FOCUS GROUP LIMITATIONS AND BENEFITS
Focus group research does have limitations, including a setting that is less natural than one that
would be found with participant observation, and a level of control that is not as great as one would have with
an individual interview (Delli Carpini & Wiliams, 1994). Additionally, unless there is a large number of
representative groups, focus groups ordinarily cannot be used to generalize the results to a larger population,
although researchers often make this mistake.
Some feel that the range of topics that can be addressed in a focus group might be limited by the fact
that self-disclosure is required and there could be problems in touching on more sensitive issues (Morgan,
1996). However this weakness has not been empirically proven and many researchers have written about


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