Group conversations (sometimes known as focus groups)

An introduction to focus groups

Focus groups are a well-known way to have an interactive discussion about a specific topic or question.

When used as a formal engagement tool, they usually follow a quite a strict methodology. However, they can also be used for a more informal group discussion, which lends itself well to engagement and joint working.

A group situation can help to create a more supportive environment, and some people can feel more comfortable talking in this setting rather than on their own. Discussions with others can also spark thoughts and feelings that might not otherwise have come to the surface.

How focus groups work

  • Focus groups are the ideal tool to gather in-depth feedback from a small group of users
  • People can come together either in person or virtually
  • A facilitator manages the conversation and steers it towards answering the questions that are most important to you
  • The feedback will provide you with a sense of how both individuals and the group as a whole think and feel
  • Focus groups are a great platform for you to discuss ideas you may have for service improvement
  • It's worth noting that it can be more difficult to analyse the data collected at a focus group, compared to the data collected through surveys or other methods

Setting up a focus group

The basics of setting up a focus group are:

  • Select a suitable format, location and time
  • Identify a willing facilitator and note taker (these could be members of your team)
  • Draft the key topics you would like to ask the users to discuss
  • Invite service users to attend; around 6-8 people is ideal

Using alternative formats for holding a focus group

Whilst focus groups are traditionally held face-to-face, it's possible to hold sessions over the phone, via WhatsApp or even using Facebook groups/messenger.

If you choose to use an alternative method for your focus group please contact us to ensure your plans adhere to Solent NHS Trust policies. We would also advise that you take a look at the following webinar, hosted by Sue Kong, Director of NHS Elect:

Tips for effective focus groups

  • Use a strong facilitator who will enable everybody to contribute
  • Try to ensure the members of your focus group are representative of your audience
  • Use a separate note taker who can ensure all key points are recorded
  • Try not to ask too many questions during a focus group as each one may take longer to answer then you anticipate
  • Host your focus group in the most suitable format for your audience, for example: some people may like to take part in a focus group face-to-face whilst others may prefer to do it virtually