Focus group

A focus group (also known as a "focus group interview") is a group interview that focuses upon a particular issue, product, service or topic by encouraging discussion among participants and the sharing of perceptions in an open and tolerant environment. Participant interaction is a key feature of focus group design, which is used (1) to reveal the preheld views of participants about a particular issue or topic (positivist or critical realist perspective), and (2) analyse how participant interactions and group dynamics lead to the construction of shared meanings (interpretivist perspective). Participants are normally chosen with a specific purpose in mind, such as they are typical of the group being researched or they represent those who are critical to a particular operation, in other words participants are "information rich" (Saunders et al., 2016).

Basic Information on the Method
Mode of communication
Face-to-face, Online, Both
Group size
1-5, 6-30
Geographical scale
Public space, Neighbourhood, City, Region
Skills required
Basic, Average, Advanced
Resources needed
Level of Involvement
Level of involvement
Type of knowledge enabled
Divergence (Small groups)
Additional Criteria
Planning phase
Initiatiion, Planning & Design, Evaluation & Research
Methodological approach

How to use the method

  1. Decide, what topic do you want to discuss and with whom. Participants should be “information rich”, in other words, they should either represent the group under observation, or they should possess substantial knowledge about the topic in focus. They should be also able (and willing) to share their ideas in a group setting.
  2. Prepare questions and materials for the discussion. Questions should be open-ended and encouraging participants to share their opinions and experiences. The length of the focus group varies from 1,5 to 2,5 hours. Reserve at least 15 min per question. Information materials about the topic, such as maps, photographs, etc. are helpful as focal points of the discussion.
  3. Contact prospective participants and discuss with them suitable time and place of the focus group. The number of participants varies in a group varies from 4 to 7. If you want to have more participant, you have to conduct multiple (parallel) sessions.
  4. Provide the venue for the focus group, which is suitable for the group work and easily accessible for prospective participants. Serve some refreshments, such tea, coffee and light snacks.
  5. Sometimes it is useful to hire a professional moderator, who will facilitate the discussion and summarise the results.
  6. During the discussion take notes, photos, or make an audio / video recording of the the discussion. The latter may require an informed written consent from the participants.
  7. Evaluate the results: what kind of information was expected and what was received, what changed based on the information received.

What are the outcomes

After the discussion you will have a set of multiple views on the topic in focus.

Skills required

Skills required from participants - Basic, Average, Advanced

  • Depending on your aims, you may involve lay or expert participants. Therefore, the levels of skills and knowledge on the topic varies.

Resources needed

Resources - Medium

  • The resources vary depending on the number of focus groups. You may have either one group, or multiple groups.
  • Time (and money) to prepare the questions and materials for the discussion
  • Price of the venue and refreshments
  • Salary for the trained moderator (optional)
  • Voice recorder or photo / video camera
  • Notebook and pen

Strengths and weaknesses

  • Saves time and money. If you select participants, which represent diverse groups within the general population, you may shape an impression about the “public opinion” on the topic
  • Provides rich and multifaceted experiential information on the topic
  • Discussions may be dominated by vociferous individuals. Therefore, a trained moderator is helpful to encourage everyone to speak up and share their ideas
  • It may be difficult to gather certain people in a certain place on a certain time for the discussion

Use cases

Four thematic seminars for Riga Territorial Plan until the year 2030 - Riga, Latvia, 2014

The topics for the seminars were “Housing”, “Work”, “Environment” and “Transportation”. The seminars involved public representatives - neighbourhood associations, environmental NGOs and citizen activists, who shared their opinions on the topics and brainstormed for the possible solutions to the problems in focus (RDPAD, 2017).

Try one of these tools & resources

  1. Saunders M., Lewis P. & Thornhill A. (2016) Research Methods for Business Students. Seventh edition. Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited.
  2. RDPAD (2017) 1. pielikums. Sabiedrības līdzdalība Rīgas teritorijas plānojuma līdz 2030. gadam izstrādē. Available at