3.2.4 Interviews or Focus Groups

Interviews or focus groups allow you to gather qualitative data that can deeply enhance your evaluation.

Interviews are conducted between an individual interviewer and an interviewee. A focus group is a group interview of approximately six to twelve people who share similar characteristics or common interests. A facilitator guides the group based on a predetermined set of topics. The facilitator creates an environment that encourages participants to share their perceptions and points of view. Focus groups are a qualitative data collection method, meaning that the data is descriptive and cannot be measured numerically.

There are three main types of interviews and focus groups:

Structured Interviews The interviewer has a set list of questions that everyone gets asked, with no other follow-up questions or new questions asked
Semi-Structured
(note that the majority of interviews and focus groups are semi-structured)
Interviews or focus groups The interviewer has a set list of questions, but also asks follow-up or “probing” questions based on the interviewee’s responses
Unstructured Interviews or focus groups There are no formal questions that are used – instead the interviewer has some very broad themes that are used to start the conversation, and then a interview takes place that “goes where the interviewee” takes it
Tips for Writing Interview and Focus Group Questions

In order to make the interview and focus group experiences as meaningful as possible, and also positive for participants, consider the following when drafting questions:

  • Keep questions simple and concise. Making them long and wordy will just confuse the participants
  • Keep questions neutral in order to allow for a range of responses (e.g., ask “Have the recent incidents of harassment on our campuses affected you and if so, how?” versus “Has the sexual harassment on our campus been upsetting you and how?”)
  • Start with questions that warm-up the participant(s), something where they do not have to share too much personal detail or emotion (e.g., “How did you learn about the Accessibility Office? What questions did you have about it when you first learned about it in terms of how it could help you?”)
  • If you are asking about what people liked, also ask them about what they felt could have been improved, so that there is a sense of balance in the questions.
  • Always end with an open question that allows people to say anything that they haven’t been able to say, and that hasn’t been covered by the questions
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