Focus-Group Discussions

  • Objective: To better understand meanings, values and perceptions relating to a particular issue.
  • Materials/Preparation: Notepads, pens, key questions. If time permits, discussions should be piloted and adjusted before the study itself, and adapted for different categories of participants (men, women, boys, girls, different classes, or characteristics, etc.). To prepare staff for research, teams may conduct mock discussions.
  • Participants: Men and women, boys or girls across age groups. Preferably around 5-10 per group.


Like most of the approaches outlined in this site, there are no set steps for focus-group discussions.

In the M&E Toolkit, Tom Barton outlines a number of key steps for conducting a focus-group discussion:

  • Design a discussion topic guide: this should have open-ended questions, and teams must consider a logical and natural sequence to them. The questions should stimulate discussion and bring out varied points of view.Helpful examples of focus group discussion question guides include:


Rights and Responsibilities
(SAA Toolkit, 2007)

Sexual and Reproductive Health: Rites, Customs and Kinship/Marriage Traditions
(SAA Toolkit, 2007)

  • Most of us agree that people should live as good a life as possible. What does a good life mean to you?
  • You have mentioned that to have a good life means that one must be healthy. Do you think that women are as healthy as they can be? (Men were asked about men, and children were asked about people in general)
  • What are examples of “good health?” I Do you think that women should have a right to be healthy? Why
    do you say that?
  • Do you think that other members of your family (like husbands or children) have a responsibility to make sure that women in the family have good health? Why do you say this?
  • Do you think that your community has a responsibility to make sure that women in the community have good health? Why do you say this?
  • As women, what rights do you have? What examples can you give?
  • What rights do your children have? I Are there differences in rights between men and women? Between women and girls? Between boys and girls?
  • What customs surround marriage (e.g., exchange of gifts, celebrations, religious or other ceremonies)? Why they are important?
  • Who decides that a couple should marry and when they should marry?
  • What roles do mothers, fathers, in-laws and community leaders play in marrying in your family?
  • When is a girl ready to be married? When is a boy ready to be married? (Probe for age, physical changes associated with puberty, economic status, lineage and promised marriages, etc.)
  • Are there couples that should NOT marry? Why?

If FGC is mentioned as a requirement for marriage, the research team asked:

  • How is FGC practiced in this community? How widespread is the practice?
  • Why do people think that it is important to practice FGC in this community? (Probe for values and traditions associated with FGC. Who [individuals or groups] in the community has strong opinions on FGC?)
  • What do you think about the practice? Do some people want to change the practice? Do some people want to keep the practice? Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Both good and bad? Why? Do you think that the practice will change?


  • Decide on the number of focus groups – generally at least two for each ‘type’ of respondent.
  • Determine how the respondents will be recruited. Specific criteria for recruitment should be decided beforehand, along with the best strategy for finding such persons.
    • Be ready to hold additional sessions if the discussion does not succeed
    • Focus groups should usually be composed of people who do not have strong status differences (age, gender, class, education, language, etc.) – this helps to create a comfortable environment for discussion.
  • Select appropriate facilitators: consider matching by age, gender, or language
  • Pretest focus groups with members of a similar nearby community.


Similar to other exercises, the team should first introduce the study and the team, and explain the purpose of the session to the group.  Before changing to a new topic, be sure each person has had at least one opportunity to provide his/her ideas.

Throughout discussions, the facilitator should probe in order to gain deeper knowledge from the discussion, but session times should be managed to compose about an hour (including introduction).


  • CARE (2007). Ideas and Action: Addressing the Social Factors that Influence Sexual and Reproductive Health.
  • T Barton (1998). Program Impact Evaluation Process: M&E Tool Box. CARE International – Uganda.