As I was exploring the literature on focus groups, I came across a recent journal article by David L. Morgan, the author of one of our assigned readings, that discusses the latest thinking on how (and whether) to analyze the interactions that take place in focus groups.
Morgan writes that the content of a focus group discussion can definitely influence how participants interact, and it works the other way too – how participants interact can influence the content-level data that is generated. For some researchers, it’s all about what is said. For others, it’s all about how and when, and how other participants react.
Ultimately, Morgan advocates a balance, tipped towards whichever element is most important to your research goals. But the article got me thinking: how reliable and valid could focus group data really be if interaction isn’t taken into account?
After all, it’s careful monitoring of interaction that allows researchers to avoid many of the potential weaknesses and problems with focus groups, some of which Morgan discusses in our assigned reading. For example, if you aren’t analyzing interactions, how can you determine whether some participants seem to conform to the most popular and socially acceptable opinion?
I’m curious to know what others think – are focus groups more about the content of the discussion or the interaction itself?