Academic journal article Family Relations

Conducting Focus Groups with Latino Populations: Lessons from the Field*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Conducting Focus Groups with Latino Populations: Lessons from the Field*

Article excerpt

We explore the use of focus groups with Latino families. Based on our work with Colombian, Guatemalan, Mexican, and Puerto Rican mothers, we review the factors that make this methodology particularly useful for working with these families. In addition, we provide a number of strategies for making the use of focus groups with Latino populations successful. These strategies can be broadly applied to practical aspects of working with Latino populations, as well as in research settings.

Key Words: families, focus groups, Latino, mothers.

(Family Relations, 2004, 53, 261-272)

Published scholarship on Latino families is limited, and as a result, our knowledge (theoretical and empirical) with regard to Latino families is lacking (Massey, Zambrana, & Alonzo Bell, 1995). For example, a keyword search via Psycinfo indicated that the Journal of Marriage and Family, one of the leading journals in family studies, has published 41 articles that include Latinos, out of the 2,134 articles published since 1964. Researchers speculate that one outcome of this situation is that scholars attempt to accommodate and apply existing research to Latinos rather than explore the meanings and conceptualizations that Latinos attach to psychological constructs (Marin & Marin, 1991). In an effort to develop theory, scholars have begun to employ qualitative methods, specifically exploratory techniques, to better understand the experiences of Latinos. Particularly useful for these purposes is focus group methodology. Here we discuss the use of focus groups with Latino populations. Specifically, we provide a brief overview of this methodology and its usefulness for studying Latino families, and we discuss practical issues in using this method with Latinos. Throughout, we provide examples from our own focus group research with Colombian, Guatemalan, Mexican, and Puerto Rican mothers that was designed to explore the process of ethnic socialization among Latino adolescents from parents' perspectives. Although this was our first project that involved both Latinos and focus group methodology, we each have considerable experience conducting research and outreach with Latinos. The first author has directed two large research projects on Latino adolescents' ethnic identity, one of which involves a 4-year longitudinal design. The second author has extensive experience interviewing Latino families in the United States and in Guatemala, and providing outreach services to Latino children and their families in educational settings.

Focus Group Methodology

Focus groups can best be described as group interviews in which group interaction and discussion centers on a topic specified by the researcher (Morgan, 1988). The group interaction is expected to produce insights that would be difficult to obtain through individual interviews (Lengua et al., 1992; Morgan, 1988). Recently, there has been phenomenal growth in the use of focus groups in social science research (Morgan, 2002). This growth is likely due to the strengths of this method, which lends itself particularly well to social science research.

Specifically, focus groups can be used for exploratory or confirmatory purposes (Stewart & Shamdasani, 1990). In addition, they are particularly useful for obtaining in-depth information in a relatively new and or understudied area, for generating hypotheses, and for evaluating new populations (Morgan, 1988; Stewart & Shamdasani). They also offer a means with which to obtain in-depth information from representatives of a target audience in a setting that encourages discussion (Crocket, Heller, Merkel, & Peterson, 1990). Finally, they provide an opportunity to gather large amounts of data in a relatively short time frame and typically at a lower cost than with other qualitative research methods (Morgan).

In addition to these strengths, additional strengths of focus group methods make them particularly useful for research with Latino populations. …

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