Friends or Strangers? Examining an Innovative Focus Group Methodology (303119)Jennifer Anderson, Westat
Chandria Jones, Westat
Teresa Kline, Westat
*Kerry Yarkin Levin, Westat
Jocelyn Newsome, Westat
Amanda Wilmot, Westat
Keywords: Qualitative, Focus Groups, Friendship Groups, Methods Study
Focus groups, often used to inform survey questionnaire design, are typically conducted in formal facilities, providing a controlled, neutral data collection environment. This helps ensure the discussion is not shaped by varying contextual stimuli, but only by participant dynamics. Typically, participants do not know each other, since it is thought that people speak more freely in front of others they do not know and are unlikely to see again. Recent work suggests that “friendship groups” may provide an alternative for collecting group-level qualitative data (The Friendship Group Toolkit, 2014). This approach involves recruiting a single source participant who in turn recruits friends possessing characteristics desired for the study. The source participant also hosts the group in their home. While the discussion follows the same format as a traditional focus group and is led by a trained moderator, the less-structured environment, theoretically allows for the natural banter and conversation that unfolds among friends. The approach may also reduce costs, both for facility space and recruiting. A pilot of the friendship group methodology was carried out by Westat in 2015. Our analysis examined data from different sources including: questionnaires that captured demographics, levels of acquaintanceship, and experience taking part in the group; transcripts; observational data relating to group dynamics; and the time and costs involved in recruiting. Using these data, we examined topics such as openness and the ability of the moderator to keep the discussion focused. We also report the costs associated with recruiting respondents using the friendship methodology. Based on these analyses, our study determined that friendship groups have the potential to be a viable and cost-effective method of qualitative inquiry. Our presentation will discuss the advantages, disadvantages, and implications of the methodology.