What should I consider if I am interested in using focus groups in my research?

A focus group can be defined as a research method that brings together a small group of people to answer questions in a moderated setting1. Because of their group-based nature, there are special confidentiality and privacy considerations that investigators must take into account when including focus groups in research.

Confidentiality: Even when investigators plan to keep all information provided during focus groups as confidential as possible, participants must be informed that investigators cannot guarantee that their fellow participants will do the same. Once focus group participants leave the focus group setting, investigators will have no control over the information that participants choose to share, even if they’ve agreed to keep the information confidential. To help minimize the risks of a breach of confidentiality, investigators should make it clear to participants that they should not discuss anything that is shared during the focus group after it ends (even with other participants) and that they should not disclose any information that they do not wish to be made public. 

A statement similar to the following should be included in both the consent form and in the instructions that will be read to participants prior to beginning the focus group: 

  • We will keep all of the information provided during the focus groups as confidential as possible, and strongly encourage all participants to do likewise. However, we cannot guarantee that your data will not be shared after this focus group is over so please do not discuss anything that you do not wish to be made public.

Investigators may also consider instructing participants to use a pseudonym; or, at a minimum, to not use their last names in any discussions.

If investigators would like to audio- and/or video-record the focus group sessions, investigators must consider what will occur should one or more participants indicate that they do not want to be recorded. For example: 

  • Will participants who do not want to be recorded be excluded from participation in the focus group/research?
  • Will investigators opt not to record the entire focus group if any single participant does not want to be recorded?
  • What is the plan should a focus group participant initially agree to be recorded, but changes their mind during the focus group session?
  • Do investigators have the ability to blur certain participants in a video recording and/or to disguise a participant’s voice in a video or audio recording?

Such questions should be considered and adequately addressed in the protocol and in the consent form(s).

Privacy: To protect the privacy of participants, focus groups should be held in private spaces/locations where participants feel comfortable discussing the topics of the focus groups. Holding focus groups in a public space/location would not be appropriate if sensitive matters will be discussed during the focus group. If focus groups will be held remotely (e.g., via Zoom), it may be necessary to instruct participants to use headphones and/or participate in a private location where audio and video cannot be overhead or seen by others.


1 Retrieved from https://www.scribbr.com/methodology/focus-group

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