Focus Groups: Part 6.2 – Analyze the Results

8 mins read

This article explains the third step in analyzing the results of a focus group, which is organizing and categorizing.

Analyzing the results of a focus group is a very important step in the focus group process, as the analysis of the qualitative data that has been gathered is what truly shows the value of all the effort put into organizing, preparing for, and running a focus group. As there is generally a great deal of data that has been gathered from the focus group, or various focus groups that were done on the same topic, it can be overwhelming when first considering how to compile and review the information. To help with this process, we have developed simple steps that can be used as strategies for analyzing the data of focus groups. The first article on analyzing the results, Part 6.1, discussed the first 2 steps in the process which involved debriefing, then reviewing and transcribing. This article discusses the 3rd step in analyzing the results, which includes organizing and categorizing.

Organize and Categorize

In this step you are ready to organize the data by grouping and categorizing the answers. To organize, start by grouping all of the answers together for each question. This will be especially helpful if there have been numerous focus groups conducted on the same topic with the same questions being asked. If you are collating numerous focus groups’ answers together, make sure to label each group’s answers with the group number beside them to keep them separated in case you need to identify the answers of individual groups. For example, the organization could be:

Question #1

Group 1

        1. Answer #1
        2. Answer #2 etc.

Group 2

        1. Answer #1
        2. Answer #2
        3. Answer #3 etc.

Once the answers are organized, it’s time to categorize the responses by comparing all the answers for each question. This involves sorting through all the participants’ responses for each question, comparing them with the other responses to that question, putting similar responses grouped together, then deciding on a category that fits the responses. Examples of categories might be: “strong agreement,” “unsure,” or “suggestions.” This technique is known as the constant comparative method, which is based on the work of Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (1967) and is described in The Discovery of Grounded Theory.

Here is what this process could look like:

1. Did the participant answer the question asked?

a. If YES – move to question 3

b. If NO – move to question 2

c. If unsure, set aside to review later

2. Does the comment answer another question asked?

a. If YES – move answer to that question’s group

b. If NO – put in discard pile for now (review discard pile again at the end before discarding in case a response fits into a category)

3. Does the comment offer value about the topic?

a. If YES – keep for categorizing and move to question 4

b. If NO – put in discard pile

4. Is it similar to something that was said before?

a. If YES – start grouping like answers or comments together

b. If NO – start a new pile

This process will involve constant comparison and decision making. Is this answer similar or different from others? It is also great to draw attention to any quotes, comments, or responses that are considered powerful or offer a lot of value to the focus group topic. This could be done with highlighting, marking a star, or drawing a box around the answer.

Here are some different methods that can be used for the categorizing process:

1. Print out the transcripts and cut out each response. Move through the above steps and physically place each cut out quote on a board with magnets or taped to a background. They could also be placed in piles together rather than spread out. This is a very tactile and visual approach to the process.

2. Print out the transcripts with double or triple spacing and make a note of the category under the responses as you follow the steps above. Could also use a colour coding system for the different categories being created.

3. Use Microsoft Excel, or a similar spreadsheet program, to sort all of the questions and responses in categories. The responses can be copied from the transcript, so they don’t have to be typed out again. This approach may be the quickest depending on the user’s knowledge of the program and allows for changing the categories or placement of responses and comments easily.

4. Use a qualitative data analysis program, usually paid for, such as MAXQDA, NVIVO, or TETRA Insights. These would be for more complex analyses and may provide more than what many organizations need for basic community focus group efforts and analysis.

Organizing and Categorizing for Value

Organizing and categorizing the focus groups’ discussions come down to finding the gathered data that provides value. Organizing is important for making sure all the responses to the same questions asked in various groups are placed together, which then eases the process of categorizing similar responses in order to find quotes, comments, and answers that provide value to the topic of the focus group.

The final article in this series on focus groups will describe the last step in the analysis process: interpreting and summarizing the results.

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