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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 7 dichotomy will be referred to as social affiliation. Additional criteria included that participants must be 18-26 years old, and heterosexual, although some focus groups were also conducted with homosexual men. With the sample defined, the Project then mapped out the overall plan for the number of groups based on the demographic composition required to fulfill research objectives. The Mass Media Project’s focus group composition followed four commonly observed conventions noted below (U.S. Department of Education 2001). Groups should be constructed to be homogeneous in terms of those characteristics that stratify the target population. The Mass Media Project planned homogenous groups based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, personality trait (sensation seeking and impulsive decision-making), and social affiliation. For example groups were all male or all female. They were composed of either heterosexuals or homosexuals. They were either made up of European Americans or African Americans. Except in special circumstances, which will be noted later, personality traits and social affiliations were also used to create homogenous groups. For example, the groups had either all high sensation seekers or all impulsive decision- makers and they were either all students or all community members. There should be enough diversity across groups to represent other characteristics that might affect responses. Because focus groups are often historically associated with marketing, the term “segmentation” is often used to refer to this sampling strategy (Morgan, 1995). Generally segmentation is used to capture an aspect of the research topic such as gender, social affiliation, personality trait, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Segmentation has the advantages of building a comparative dimension into the research study, and it can help facilitate conversation by assuring that group members have something in common (Morgan, 1995). It also has the disadvantage that it can force the researcher to require a large number of groups since it is not advisable to have just one group per segment. However, using multiple segmentation criteria can answer some of these concerns since the design would include multiple groups in each separate segment (Knodel, 1993). The Mass Media Project focus group research plan was designed to encourage comparative analysis regarding respondent gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, personality trait or social affiliation. In each of the three waves of research, the following groups were conducted: male and female high sensation seeking (HSS) students, male and female impulsive decision making (IDM) students, male and female HSS community members, male and female IDM community members, and male and female African American groups (social affiliation/personality traits mixed). While researchers had extensive experience with how HSS individuals respond to messages, they were interested in comparing the reactions of IDM individuals with the reactions of individuals who are Rational Decision Makers (RDM), therefore, two focus groups were composed of RDMs in Wave Two. Wave One and Wave Two each included groups with homosexual HSS men (social affiliation mixed), and homosexual IDM men (social affiliation mixed). Including group members who knew each other prior to participation should be avoided or, at the least, minimized. The Mass Media Project built several mechanisms into the recruiting process to

Authors: Allard, Suzie., Palmgreen, Philip. and Zimmerman, Rick.
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Recruiting for Focus Groups in Health Communication Campaigns
page 7
dichotomy will be referred to as social affiliation. Additional criteria included that participants must be 18-26
years old, and heterosexual, although some focus groups were also conducted with homosexual men.
With the sample defined, the Project then mapped out the overall plan for the number of groups
based on the demographic composition required to fulfill research objectives. The Mass Media Project’s
focus group composition followed four commonly observed conventions noted below (U.S. Department of
Education 2001).
Groups should be constructed to be homogeneous in terms of those characteristics that
stratify the target population. The Mass Media Project planned homogenous groups based on gender,
sexual orientation, ethnicity, personality trait (sensation seeking and impulsive decision-making), and social
affiliation. For example groups were all male or all female. They were composed of either heterosexuals or
homosexuals. They were either made up of European Americans or African Americans. Except in special
circumstances, which will be noted later, personality traits and social affiliations were also used to create
homogenous groups. For example, the groups had either all high sensation seekers or all impulsive decision-
makers and they were either all students or all community members.
There should be enough diversity across groups to represent other characteristics that might
affect responses. Because focus groups are often historically associated with marketing, the term
“segmentation” is often used to refer to this sampling strategy (Morgan, 1995). Generally segmentation is
used to capture an aspect of the research topic such as gender, social affiliation, personality trait, ethnicity or
sexual orientation. Segmentation has the advantages of building a comparative dimension into the research
study, and it can help facilitate conversation by assuring that group members have something in common
(Morgan, 1995). It also has the disadvantage that it can force the researcher to require a large number of
groups since it is not advisable to have just one group per segment. However, using multiple segmentation
criteria can answer some of these concerns since the design would include multiple groups in each separate
segment (Knodel, 1993).
The Mass Media Project focus group research plan was designed to encourage comparative analysis
regarding respondent gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, personality trait or social affiliation. In each of the
three waves of research, the following groups were conducted: male and female high sensation seeking
(HSS) students, male and female impulsive decision making (IDM) students, male and female HSS
community members, male and female IDM community members, and male and female African American
groups (social affiliation/personality traits mixed). While researchers had extensive experience with how HSS
individuals respond to messages, they were interested in comparing the reactions of IDM individuals with the
reactions of individuals who are Rational Decision Makers (RDM), therefore, two focus groups were
composed of RDMs in Wave Two. Wave One and Wave Two each included groups with homosexual HSS
men (social affiliation mixed), and homosexual IDM men (social affiliation mixed).
Including group members who knew each other prior to participation should be avoided or, at
the least, minimized. The Mass Media Project built several mechanisms into the recruiting process to


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