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Focus groups

Last edited: December 20, 2011

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The focus group is a specific methodology best-suited to assess social attitudes and influences that impact people’s behaviour. It is particularly helpful in getting information related to a problem about which little is known, testing communication or educational messages, or gathering information about how a group might react to a given strategy. Focus groups often reveal social norms and shared opinions and can help provide a basis to develop survey questions or in-depth interview guides.

Focus groups work best when they are designed to include small groups of people who share similar characteristics (e.g. women of the same age from the same community who have tried to use the formal courts or paralegals who work on violence against women in a particular community). Participants are invited to attend and the size is limited to about 8-10 people. Conducting multiple groups with different characteristics, but which are focused on the same topic, will help generate more useful data.

The idea behind a focus group is to generate a conversation around a particular issue and to gage the attitudes of participants. Focus groups generally should be facilitated by someone experienced with the methodology. Focus group questions should flow from the general to the more specific and the facilitator should encourage participants to share stories, opinions, and reactions, in a relaxed environment. Focus groups require that the conversation is audio recorded for later analysis, or that there are one to two note-takers to document questions and answers. Other forms of information such as body language, silences, and general demeanor of participants in relation to questions or statements should also be documented. Focus groups are not the best method to elicit facts, individual knowledge of content, or individual opinions. Rather, focus groups generate anecdotes, information about patterns, and general insights into prevailing norms or attitudes.


Namibia – Focus Groups Shed Light on Rape Case Withdrawal

In Namibia, the Legal Assistance Centre used focus groups in combination with other methods to elicit information about the top ten reasons that women withdraw rape complaints. In each of the focus groups for the Legal Assistance Centre study, moderators asked participants to create a list of the ten reasons that women in their community withdrew rape cases. Although the majority of the women in the focus groups had not been victims of rape, many knew someone who had and thus could provide valuable insight into the factors women consider when filing and withdrawing a rape complaint.

Source: Legal Assistance Centre. 2008. Withdrawn: Why Complainants withdraw rape cases in Namibia.

Mobilising Communities to Prevent Domestic Violence: A Resource Guide for Organisations in East and Southern Africa (Raising Voices, 2003). Available in English. Instructions on how to conduct focus groups, how to prepare facilitators and note takers, as well as how to analyze focus group data are available at pages 33-35.

For additional information on assessment tools, see the Needs Assessment and Formative Research section of the general Monitoring and Evaluation section.


Sample Focus Group Guide

 (Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Kiboga  District, Uganda, 19th   - 25th April2009)

1. What do you understand by the term gender based violence (GBV)?

2. What are the causes of GBV against women and children in your home/community?

3. What are the various forms of GBV against women and children in your community?

4. Who are the main perpetrators of GBV against women and children in your community?

5. What impact has GBV against women and children had on both the victims and the

community as a whole?

6. How many cases of GBV against women and children are reported in your community?

7. What recommendations would you make to ensure that victims of GBV are protected

from further violence (focus on women and children)?

8. What are the laws that deal with GBV?

9. Do you think a specific GBV law should be enacted? Explain.

10. What institutions (government and non-government) that exist and handle GBV in

your community? How effective are they in handling matters of GBV in your community?

11. What problems are faced when dealing with GBV against women and children in  

your community?

12. What do you think should be done to curb GBV against women and children?

13. How has the media assisted in reporting GBV cases in the district?

See how this focus group data was used by reading the Baseline Study Report from Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.