Using Symbols and Shapes for Analysis in Small Focus Group Research

By Omojola, Oladokun | The Qualitative Report, May 2016 | Go to article overview

Using Symbols and Shapes for Analysis in Small Focus Group Research


Omojola, Oladokun, The Qualitative Report


The focus group study method, a classic example of group-based, qualitative research, has been in existence for decades. Its popularity is demonstrated from time to time by scholars who adopt it to collect experiential data for academic use (Krueger & Casey, 2000). Researchers would set up groups with a clear focus on a subject to determine discussants' opinions, beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and so forth on an issue, product, service, idea, advertisement and the like. Technology vendors or their agents use the system in usability tests, where motivations of users and potential users of the particular equipment or systems are determined. Contrary to the popular belief, the popularity of focus group discussion (whether it takes place physically, on telephone or online) extends beyond the appraisal of reactions and interactions as it can also be used to turn an idea into substance or product.

In spite of the increasing popularity of the qualitative approaches, researchers do believe that regular investigations are indispensable to their appraisal (Khan & Manderson, 1992, p. 65). Criticisms remain with the way focus group data are computed and reported. Inadequate design and haphazard reporting are two of Krueger's (1993) worries, corroborated by Carlsen and Glenton (2011). Another area that attracts attention is the use of group-based research data to end users. The need for a new pathway in this regard is stressed by Agar and MacDonald (1995, p. 78) who support a close analysis of transcripts and Wilkinson (1998, p. 197) who argues that a considerable potential exists for the development of a new and better method of analyzing focus group findings. Furthermore, Krueger (1994) places emphasis on the community: "The focus group interview taps into human tendencies ... We are a product of our environment and are influenced by people around us" (pp. 10-11). It is increasingly becoming an issue that while scholars place so much emphasis on the discussion community, less prominence is seen associated with target users of the findings from group-based studies that constitute an integral part of that community. The analyses of findings are commonly elitist and have high end targets usually in scholars who are well known adopters of the method. Potential archetype beneficiaries of the focus group system--the Sub-Saharan rural farmers who have no lingua franca advantage, new adopters of the method and business men and women who are usually unenthusiastic about lengthy textual analyses--would need to be motivated by providing them with a simpler way of understanding and assimilating the findings from a focus group discussion in a short period of time.

As a way of making the analysis of focus group findings more attractive, some writers argued in favor of the grid technique, for easy identification of constructs and organization of themes (Boyle, 2005; Dillon, 1994; Dillon & McKnight, 1990; Higginbottom, 1998). The technique, especially the repertory grid, enables the researcher to identify a set of observations from the entire discourse, rated according to the constructs that are elicited by the discussants and in line with the purpose of study. The fact that interviewees' rating seems to arrive at a precise description, "uncontaminated by the interviewer" (Hair, Rose, & Clark, 2009, pp. 5253), is widely acknowledged as a plus for the grid system, which the use of symbols further exemplifies. The exactness of expressed opinions enables symbolism, and by extension validity of the process, such that each point articulated can be easily represented by one easily identifiable symbol, thereby making the symbolist a crucial role player in the focus group research system.

Findings are computed on "a grid in the form of n rows and m columns, which record a subject's ratings, usually on a 5- or 7-point scale, of m elements in terms of n constructs" (Dillon, 1994, p. 76). The flexibility of the technique is also publicized as very appropriate for the appraisal of environmental perceptions as it "can provide a rich variety of detailed data" (Potter & Coshall, 1984, p. …

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