Having recently conducted a couple of pieces of focus group research I have been encouraged by the reciprocal benefits experienced by researcher, commissioners of the research and research participants themselves.
In March I conducted a focus group for the Creative Industries Think Tank which is convened through Stoke on Trent City Council. Members of the Think Tank are responsible for generating a support programme strategy for the creative industries and business using innovative and creative practice for 2015-2020. They wanted a participatory approach to this strategy with members of the creative industry to be consulted on what the priorities for investment and development should be. I conducted a focus group to gather this data and upon completing the focus group I used a questionnaire to find out what participants had gained from the experience. They specified that they had learnt from one another. One focus group participant stated that they had appreciated gaining “an understanding of other members view points…” and went on to say that they valued realising that they had “similar goals and aspirations” to others present. This echoed findings from another focus group that I undertook in the summer with a cross section from the voluntary, public and business sector relating to training and development needs regarding People Skills. These participants also highlighted how they appreciated learning from one another in terms of shared experiences and also hearing the solutions that others had employed to tackle similar work related issues.
There are some limitations with focus groups in terms of people that might dominate discussion and people being unwilling to disclose certain information when in a group context. Furthermore, it opens itself up to socially desirable answers being given, again due to the group context. However, there is also the opportunity for people to bounce ideas off one another and concepts to be developed. There is space for each person to learn and grow as a result of hearing other people’s views and experiences.
My recent experiences have led me to a deeper appreciation for using focus groups as a research methodology due to the shared learning experience. The benefits reported by the participants in the recent studies seem to point to focus groups being used as a tool for learning whereby participants gain value alongside those conducting and commissioning research. I have not noted this level of positive feedback from participants from one to one interview and questionnaire based research. Although, I confess I haven’t asked interview and questionnaire respondents to specify what they have gained from participating through one-to-one dialogue or self-completion research methods. I am about to be interviewed this afternoon for someone else’s research around creative arts and compassion so I will be able to reflect further on this in relation to whether I gain any mutual benefit as a research participant.
Focus groups, interviews and questionnaires have become established as more traditional approaches to gaining qualitative data and descriptive statistics. However, other contemporary participatory approaches to gaining data seem to have mutual shared learning benefits e.g. World Café’s. When involved in data collection at creative participatory research events participants have often taken interest in finding out what others have said. There seems to be a lot more that can be gained from all involved when groups of people come together for research purposes.