What is it? This is a small group discussion led by a facilitator in the exploration of a specific issue. Throughout the conversation, the focus remains on the selected topic. Discussion participants are purposely chosen so that a diversity of opinions will be expressed in a non-threatening atmosphere. Typically the primary objective is to learn about different perspectives on a matter of current concern. Focus groups can be a good way to explore opinions more thoroughly, and to better understand the depth and breadth of differing community sentiments. Sometimes, such discussions can also help opposing groups to better understand one another, as well as build trust and allow for creative problem-solving.
How has it been used? Page County, Virginia leaders used focus groups as part of their efforts to improve the quality of life for local residents. Officials recognized public schools as playing a crucial role, but wanted to discover how to better help youth thrive. In order to better understand the issues involved, planners conducted three focus groups, one for each of the following groups: the community at large, the school system, and the parents. As part of the process, each group completed a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of three different areas of concern: health and wellness, crime and violence and community involvement. The discussions and input provided by group members helped officials generate a number of specific recommendations, such as increasing youth access to mentors and volunteers, and ensuring consistent levels of services around the county. The focus groups contributed to county’s efforts to help improve the quality of life. (Source: Page County Public Schools – Report of Focus Group Meetings)