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NEEDS ASSESSMENT KNOWLEDGE BASE

MANAGINGFOCUSGROUPS
PURPOSE

Thepurposeofconductingfocusgroupsistocollectinformationfromasmallgroup(forinstance,fiveto12
participants)inasystematicandstructuredformat.Aneffectivefocusgroupisdesignedaroundaclearand
specificgoal.Participantsinteractwithafacilitatorwhopresentstheparticipantswithquestionsdesignedto
yieldinsightintocurrentand/ordesiredresultsinrelationtoaspecifictopicorissue.

NEEDSASSESSMENTAPPLICATIONS

Attainingtheinformationrequiredtocompleteaneedsassessmentwilloftentimesrequirethatyou
interviewanumberofpeopleatthesametime.Thefocusisanopportunitytogainvaluableinformation
relatedbothtocurrentresultsaswellasdesiredresultsateachleveloftheprogram/projectresultschain.
Whilefocusgroupscanalsobeusedtoidentifyalternativeactivitiestoimproveperformance,duringthe
needsassessmentitisimportanttomaintainattentiononthecollectionofinformationthatwillhelpyou
identifyvalidneeds(i.e.,gapsbetweencurrentanddesiredresults),evidencetosupportthevalidationof
thoseneeds,andinformationthatwillallowyoutoprioritizeneedspriortoselectingacourseofactionfor
addressingthehighpriorityneeds.

ADVANTAGESANDDISADVANTAGES

ADVANTAGES
Throughafocusgroupformatyoucaninterviewmultiplepeopleatonetime.
Focusgroupdiscussionsallowmembersofthefocusgrouptobuildoneachotherscommentsand
reactions.Thiscanyieldsynergyofdiscussionaroundtopicsorthemes.
Withafocusgroupyoucanhelpgroupsofpeoplecometoconsensusandmakechallengingdecisions
(suchas,prioritizingneeds).

DISADVANTAGES
Groupmembersmaynotcontributeequallytothediscussioninafocusgroupformat.Morereserved
membersmaynotfeelcomfortableinsertingtheircontributionsinthediscussion.Otherparticipants
maytrytodominatediscussions.
Gainingconsensusfromthegroupcanbechallenging.
Discussionsmaytaketoolongtocoveralloftherelevanttopicsandtooffereveryoneachanceto
participate.

WBI EVALUATION GROUP (2007)


NEEDS ASSESSMENT KNOWLEDGE BASE

Becauseofthepresenceofothers,participantsmaynotfeelcomfortablesharingmoresensitive
informationorviews.
Focusgroupscaneasilygetofftaskifthefacilitatordoesnotmaintainstructureandcontrol
throughouttheprocess.

GENERALPROCEDURES
1. Fromthelistofinformationrequiredfortheneedsassessment,identifythoseelementsthatmaybestbe
attainedthroughfocusgroups.Forinstance,identificationofneeds,validationofneeds,rootcausesof
needs,and/oralternativesolutionsidentification.
2. Prioritizetheinformationrequirementsforeachfocusgroupandusethistocreateafacilitatorsguideor
protocolforeachfocusgroup.
3. Selectafocusgroupdecisionmakingtechniqueforeachfocusgroup.Whileunstructuredfocusgroups
maybeusefulonlimitedoccasions,morestructuredtechniquesareoftenvaluableandcanensurethat
thefocusgroupprovidestheinformationyourequireformakingneedsassessmentdecisions.Hereare
somesamplesmallgroupdecisionmakingtechniquestoconsider:
a. NominalGroupTechnique:Inresponsetoanopenendedquestion,participantsindividually
brainstormandprioritizetheirownideasbeforesharingthemwithothersinthegroupina
roundrobinformatwhereeachparticipantofferstheirideasoropinions.Afterdiscussionthe
groupmembersanonymouslyvoteontheprioritizationoftheideaslistedbythegroup
members.
b. DACUM:Usesgroupsofsixtoeighthighperformingexpertstodescribethefrequently
performeddutiesandtasks(aswellasconnectedknowledgeandskills)associatedwithagiven
occupation,job,orrolewithinanorganization.TheDACUMtechniqueismostoftenusedwith
focusgroupswhenthedecisionhasbeenmadethatalearningactivity(ortrainingevent)is
goingtobeoneoftheperformanceinterventionincludedintheset.
c. CriticalIncidentTechnique:Intheirresponsestofocusgroupquestions,participantsareasked
toprovidepasteventsasexamples.Eacheventshouldincludeadescriptionoftheconditionsor
contextfortheevent,thepeopleinvolvedintheevent,theplaceoftheevent,andtheassociated
activitiesorbehaviorsofpeopleintheevent.Thefocusofthediscussionsisthenonprevious
incidentsrelatedtothetopicratherthenspeculationsandgeneralizations.
d. SWOT:FocusingontheStrengths,Weaknesses,Opportunities,andThreatscanguidethe
discussionofafocusgroup.Further,SWOTitemscanthenbeassessedfortherelativeamountof
controlthegrouphasovertheitemandtherelativeimpactoftheiteminordertoprioritize.
e. Delphitechnique:AlthoughDelphiisnotatechniqueoftenusedinfocusgroupsitisvaluable
toolinpreparingforafocusgrouporcommunitymeeting.Thetechniquereachesconsensusby
askingasmallgroupofexpertsonthetopictogivetheirinputthroughasurvey.Resultsofthe
surveyarethentabulatedandrecirculatedtotheexpertsforadditionalinputandprioritization.

WBI EVALUATION GROUP (2007)


NEEDS ASSESSMENT KNOWLEDGE BASE

Severalroundsofsurveysmayberequiredinordertoreachconsensusamongtheexpertsonthe
prioritizedtopicsthatshouldbeaddressinthefocusgrouporcommunitymeeting.
f. Brainstorming:Thistechniquecanbeusedtoquicklygeneratenewideasortoidentifyand
consideralternativesolutionstoagivenproblem.Toinitiateaproductivebrainstorming
session,identifythespecifictopicthatyouwouldlikegroupmemberstoconcentrateon.
Introducethetopic,andencouragegroupmemberstobrainstormfreelyforagivenamountof
time.Encourageonthespotthoughtsandideas.Recordallcontributionsfromgroupmembers
(itishelpfultorecordthesethoughtsinaformatthatisvisibletoallgroupmembers,suchasan
LCDprojectedconceptmaporwordprocessingdocument).Categorizeandcombineideas
underoverarchingheadings.Analyzeandevaluatetheideaswiththegroupandprioritizethem
intermsoftheirusabilityintheneedsassessment.
g. StrawPolls:Aninformalvotingmethodthatcanbeusedtoquicklyprobeopinionsof
participants.Strawpollsgiveallparticipantsthechancetogivetheiropinionthrougharesponse
suchasayesornotoaquestion.Itisimportanttorecognizethatstrawpollsarenotgenerally
consideredtobebinding,officialvotes.Instead,theyareusedtogetasenseofthepulseofa
groupinrelationtoaspecificissueortheme,and/ortoorientthesubsequentdiscussion.Straw
pollscanbeusedeffectivelyinsituationswherethereisalonglistofideas,andyouwantthe
groupmemberstoeliminateideasthathavelittleornosupport.Usingthestrawpollapproach,
youcanleteachgroupmemberchooseagivennumberofitemsfromthelistforinclusionor
elimination.
h. RoundRobinReporting:Thistechniquecanbeimplementedinatleasttwodifferentways,both
ofwhicharebasedonyouhavingaspecificquestionorsuggestion.Oneapproachistosharethe
question/suggestionwithallthegroupmembers,andtoaskeachofthegroupmemberstowrite
downtheirideasinrelationtothequestion/issue.Youthengoaroundthegroup,witheach
persontakingturnstoshareoneideafromtheirlist.Youcontinuethisprocessofgoingaround
theroomuntilnobodyhasanyideaslefttoshare.Anotherapproachistosharethe
question/suggestionwiththegroup,andthenaskeachpersontogivetheirreactionsandideasin
relationtothequestion/suggestionyoupresented.Inbothformats,theroundrobinapproach
allowseachgroupmembertoshareequallyinthegroupprocess,therebyensuringthatnoone
persondominatesthediscussion.
4. Createafacilitatorsguideorprotocoltoguideeachfocusgroup.Ensurethatrequiredinformation
regardingboththecurrentresultsandthedesiredresultsoftheneedsassessmentarerepresented,along
withtherequiredinformationateachleveloftheprogram/projectresultschain.
5. Locateanexperiencedfacilitatorifpossible.Usinganexperiencedfocusgroupfacilitatorwillgenerally
leadtobetterresultsthanifyoufacilitatethegroupyourself;thoughyoumaywanttobepresentasa
notetakerduringthefocusgroupinordertocapturesomeofthedatafirsthand.

WBI EVALUATION GROUP (2007)


NEEDS ASSESSMENT KNOWLEDGE BASE

6. Thefacilitatorcanusethefacilitatorsguideorprotocoltogenerateafewspecificquestionsthatcanbe
usedtoopenthediscussioninthefocusgroup(he/shecanalsoconsulttheinformationoncurrentand
desiredresultsbasedontheneedsassessmenttocomeupwiththesequestions).
7. Scheduleatimeforthefocusgroupwhenthehighestpriorityparticipantsareallavailable.Verifythat
youhavebothafocusgroupfacilitatorandapersontotakenotesduringthemeetingavailableatthe
scheduledtime.
8. Implementthefocusgroupsession.Allowthefacilitatortomanagethefocusgroupprocess.Ifyouserve
asnotetakerforthefocusgroup,avoidbeingtemptedtointerruptthegroup.Youaresimplythereto
recorddataandobservethefocusgroup.
9. Immediatelyafterthefocusgrouphasendedthefacilitatorandnotetakershouldverifythatallofthe
essentialinformationfromthegrouphasbeencapturedinawrittendocument.
10. Ifappropriate,runseveralfocusgroups.Thisensuresthatyougatherenoughinformationfortheneeds
assessment.

TIPSFORSUCCESS
Haveaclearandspecificgoalforthefocusgroup.
Createasurveytobegivenouttoparticipantsinordertocaptureinformationthatmaynotbediscussed
inthefocusgroupduetotimelimitations.
Carefullypresenteachofyourquestionstothegroup,andallowthegroupmembersacoupleof
minutestothinkaboutthequestionandrecordtheiranswers.
Completeatestrunofthefocusgroupinordertoidentifypotentialproblems,changestoquestions,or
additionalmaterialsthatshouldbeavailabletoparticipants.
Afteraquestionhasbeenanswered,andbeforemovingontothenextquestion,verballyreportbacka
summaryofwhatyouheard.Thisconfirmsforthegroupmembersthattheycommunicatedwhatthey
intendedto,andallowsthemtomakeanysuggestionsforadjustmentsintheeventthattheirthought(s)
wasnotaccuratelyrepresented.
Dontbeafraidtoaskparticipantstoleaveiftheyarenotwillingtoletothersinthefocusgroup
participate.Afterall,thegoalofthefocusgroupistogainmultipleperspectivesontheissues.
Ifyouaregoingtovideooraudiotapethefocusgroupbesuretogettheconsentofallparticipants.
Communicatetothegroupmemberswhatwillbedonewiththevideo/audiorecordingofthesession
(e.g.,whowillgettolistentoit,howitwillbestored,howlongitwillbestored,etc).Suchissueshave
consequencesforhowopenthegroupmembersfeeltosharingtheirtrueopinionsratherthanthosethat
theythinkyou(ortheorganization)willwanttohear.
Writedownanyobservationsthatyoumadeduringthefocusgroup.Forexample,noteifthe
audio/videoequipmentfailed,ifsomethingunexpectedtookplace,etc.Thesenotesmayhelpelucidate
commentswhenyouanalyzethedatathatyougatheredthroughthefocusgroup.
Planforthefocusgrouptotakebetween40minutesandthreehoursoftime.

WBI EVALUATION GROUP (2007)


NEEDS ASSESSMENT KNOWLEDGE BASE

REFERENCESANDRESOURCES
Witkin,B.R.,&Altschuld,J.W.(1995).PlanningandConductingNeedsAssessments:APracticalGuide.
SagePublications,Inc.

WEBSITES
SmallGroupTechniques
http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/reports/pittd/smlgroup.htm

TheFocusGroupInterviewandOtherKindsofGroupActivitiesguide
http://ppa.aces.uiuc.edu/pdf_files/Focus.pdf

FocusGroupsANeedsAssessmentTool
http://www.joe.org/joe/1992spring/tt2.html

BrainstormingProcess:
http://www.businessballs.com/brainstorming.htm

WBI EVALUATION GROUP (2007)