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How to run a focus group

Suggestions on how to keep conversation focused and clarify key points. 

Things you'll need

  • Group facilitator
  • participants
  • recording device
  • notebook
  • optional flipchart, post-it notes and pens

Explain the purpose of the focus group

At the beginning explain why you are running the group and how participants can help.

  • Tell participants how they will find out the results of the work you are doing. Ask for their contact details to send them information, if appropriate.
  • Explain to participants why you need to take notes and ask if they are happy about this.
  • Ask for permission to record the group discussion.
  • Assure participants that their names will not be used when you write up your findings.
  • Think about how you will put participants at ease.
  • Remind participants that taking part is voluntary.

Keep the conversation on track

  • Keep the topic focused and relevant to the participants.
  • Let participants respond on their own terms, and define the issues that are important to them, but keep the group focused on the key topics.
  • Give everyone the opportunity to comment – particularly those who may find it difficult to contribute.
  • Respect participants’ right not to discuss sensitive topics but support them if they wish to do so.
  • Politely manage saboteurs. These are participants who may try to take over the discussion or deliberately provoke others. Their views are valid but ensure they don’t stop others participating.
  • Ask for feedback periodically to summarise and clarify key points.
  • Observe body language. If someone pulls a face, perhaps they disagree with the last point made. Ask them about it. 

Taking notes on the focus group

  • Remember to record and refer to the whole discussion and not only the points that are agreed by the whole group.
  • If you are not taping the conversation, and someone says something particularly interesting, try to write this down word for word so you can quote it later.
  • Record non-verbal behaviour.

Ending the focus group

  • As you come nearer to the end of the discussion, ease participants out of focus group mode by letting them know the discussion is coming to a close.
  • Draw the discussion to a close after a maximum of two hours. Remember, focus groups can be very hard work on everyone involved, particularly the facilitator. Don’t assume that participants have all the time in the world to give you.
  • Summarise and clarify key points.
  • Confirm how and in what form you will be communicating the findings of the focus group to the participants.
  • Thank participants for their time and contributions.



After the focus group

  • The facilitator and note-taker should spend some time reviewing the process and agreeing how to analyse and report on the information gathered.
  • Type up the discussion notes as soon after the group as possible as this is when the memory of what was said and how is most fresh.
  • Remember to give feedback on the outcomes of the discussion to the participants, especially if you are planning to bring them back again for further focus groups.

Further information

Read more about setting up focus groups.

Read more about impact and evaluation.

Read more about writing a questionnaire.

This How To was contributed by NCVO Charities Evaluation Services.


Page last edited Jan 31, 2018 History

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