© INTRAC 2017
Focus group discussions are facilitated discussions, held with a small group of people who have specialist
knowledge or interest in a particular topic. They are used to find out the perceptions and attitudes of a
defined group of people. Focus group discussions can be applied at any stage of the project or programme
cycle from design through to evaluation.
Focus group discussions (FGDs) are facilitated discussions,
held with a small group of people who have specialist
knowledge or interest in a particular topic. FGDs are
typically carried out with between 6-12 people. They are
normally based around a short list of guiding questions,
designed to probe for in-depth information. Discussions
typically last between one and two hours.
FGDs are often used to access the views of those who
would not be willing or able to speak up at larger, group
meetings. They may also be used to access the views of
minority or disadvantaged groups, such as women, children
or people with disabilities. This is possible because FGD
groups can be comprised entirely of people from specific
disadvantaged groups who would not find it easy to discuss
their particular needs and opinions in a mixed setting. FGDs
may also be used to access the views of people with expert
knowledge or special interest in a topic. For example, an
FGD group could be formed of community workers, district
health workers or school liaison officers.
FGDs can be used at any stage of the project or programme
cycle. They can be used at the design or planning stage to
help shape a project or programme; they can be used
during implementation to provide on-going feedback; and
they can be used during reviews and evaluations. They are
considered particularly useful for generating a large
amount of qualitative information in a relatively short
period of time.
FGDs are qualitative data tools, and are not appropriate for
gathering quantitative data or producing statistical analysis.
Instead, they are used to generate qualitative insights or
produce direct quotes that can represent the views of the
FGDs should not be associated with quantitative sampling
methods. Time and resources permitting, a project or
programme would hope to continue to carry out FGDs on a
particular topic or question until saturation point is reached
– that is the point at which no new information is
generated and findings become repetitive. Where this is
not possible projects or programmes have to plan for an
appropriate number of FGDs based on the available time
and resources. This is normally a matter of judgement and
How it works
There are a few common steps that are usually taken when
designing and implementing FGDs (see USAID 2011). These
are shown below.
The first step is to select the team that
will facilitate the discussions. It is
normally considered good practice to
have at least two people conducting
FGDs. One person facilitates the
discussion whilst the other takes notes.
This makes it easier for the facilitators to observe the
interactions between different group members, as well as
recording what they say.
STEP 1: Select the team to facilitate the
STEP 2: Identify the groups and
participants that will take part
STEP 3: Decide on the timing and location
of the meetings
STEP 4: Develop a set of questions or a
STEP 5: Conduct and record the focus
STEP 6: Analyse the data
© INTRAC 2017
Ideally, a facilitator should know the local language. If this
is not possible, an interpreter or translator may need to be
used in addition to the facilitator and recorder. FGD
facilitation requires skills and experience. It is therefore
important to select facilitators with an appropriate level of
skills, knowledge and training.
The next step is to identify the groups
and participants that will take part in
the discussions. FGD participants should
be from similar backgrounds, and should
be able to discuss matters freely with
each other. This is why FGDs are often
carried out with separate groups. For example, older and
younger women may need to be placed in different groups
because younger women may be less likely to speak openly
in front of older women. Or women may not feel free to
discuss some issues in the same room as men.
Once the required groups have been identified, the
participants can be selected. It is often useful to do this
with the help of key informants in the community.
Alternatively, some participants can be selected based of
their expertise or special interest in a subject.
The next step is to decide on the timing
and location of meetings. FGDs
generally last up to two hours.
Wherever possible, they should be
located in a convenient space where
people can discuss matters in comfort
and with some degree of privacy. If at all possible, FGDs
should be carried out at a time that is most convenient to
the participants, and interferes with their normal lives as
little as possible.
It is normal practice to develop a set of
questions or a discussion guide.
Sometimes, this can be as simple as a
checklist containing a few broad,
guiding questions. 2-3 questions are
normally considered sufficient for an
FGD, as it is important to allow time for the questions to be
discussed at length. Sometimes, discussion guides may be
developed, containing notes of what to look for in the
discussions, or suggesting different avenues for exploring
Once all the planning has been done
the next step is to conduct the FGDs.
Each discussion should start with a brief
introduction, explaining the purpose of
the session, and ensuring that
participants know how information will
be used. The introduction should also cover the processes
that will be used during the discussions, and any ground
Discussions are normally based on the checklist or
discussion guides produced during the previous step.
However, it is accepted that discussions may take different
directions depending on the interests of the group.
Wherever possible, it is important to try and ensure that
discussions are not led by the facilitator, but instead are
carried out between different members of the group.
Discussions should be recorded as they happen. This is
much easier if there are two facilitators. Sometimes, audio
recordings of the discussions are also made. FGD notes
should be extensive, and should reflect not just the content
of the discussions, but also non-verbal behaviour as well
(such as facial expressions, changes in body language, etc.).
The final step is to analyse the data.
This can be done in two stages. After
each individual FGD the facilitation
team should review the transcripts of
the discussions in order to identify any
key themes emerging. Then once all
FGDs have been completed, the data can be examined to
look for common trends and patterns.
If there are many groups then an additional step might be
to identify people from different groups who would be
willing to meet at a different time to discuss similarities and
differences in findings from across the groups.
Strengths and weaknesses
There are clear benefits associated with FGDs. For example,
they are participatory methodologies that can fully engage
different stakeholders in collecting and analysing
information. Focus group interactions can enrich the quality
and quantity of information generated through M&E
processes, and in some cases the discussions can reveal
ideas or solutions for particular challenges and problems.
And, in general, FGDs can generate insights more quickly
and cheaply than key informant interviews or surveys.
However, there are times when FGDs are not appropriate,
or when facilitators need to take particular care. Some of
these are described below.
In some cultures, and on certain topics, people are
more comfortable expressing themselves freely in
groups than on their own. In other cultures, and for
other topics, the opposite is true. Facilitators should
know beforehand which topics can safely be covered
within a focus group and which cannot.
FGD facilitators need to be sensitive to the hierarchies
and power differentials within the group. It is
important that the facilitator does not allow
discussions to intrude on areas of sensitivity or
There can be great disagreement if groups are not
homogenous, so it is important to form groups of
people that are comfortable discussing issues with one
FGDs can be time-consuming to plan and implement,
and the findings may be difficult to analyse. FGDs are
resource intensive as at least two facilitators are
normally needed for each session. FGDs are harder to
facilitate than individual interviews, so facilitators need
skills and experience.
© INTRAC 2017
As stated earlier, FGDs are qualitative methodologies
and should not be used on their own when statistical
analysis is required. FGDs should not be subject to
statistical sampling methods, and should not be used
to generate quantitative indicators.
Some do’s and don’ts of FGDs are contained in the table
Some Do’s and Don’ts of Focus Group Discussions
|• Hold the FGD in a comfortable place, where there will
be no interruptions.
• Create an informal atmosphere so that participants feel
• Select participants to ensure equality and trust between
group members, and between members and the
• Ensure understanding and agreement within the group
at the start around the purpose of the discussions.
• Respect the right of all participants to speak and be
• Agree an open and transparent method of recording
the discussion, such as flip charts.
|• Don’t allow your own personal biases to prevent you
from being objective in listening to, and observing,
• Don’t get into arguments with participants or seek to
dominate the discussions.
• Don’t allow discussions to continue if it is clear that
some participants are uncomfortable.
• Don’t allow one or two participants to dominate the
• Don’t develop too many questions or areas of enquiry –
two to three guiding questions should be enough.
• Don’t allow the discussions to go on too long, past the
point where participants become tired
Further reading and resources
Two other relevant papers in this section of the M&E Universe deal with interviews and surveys and questionnaires. To access
these papers directly, click on the relevant links below
Short, practical guides for using FGDs can be found in the INTRAC book Sharpening the Development Process: A practical guide
to monitoring and evaluation, page 86, and in the USAID produced document Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Tips:
Conducting Focus Group Interviews. This document is available from the following website address:
USAID (2011). Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Tips: Conducting focus group interviews. Number 10.
Anne Garbutt, Alison Napier,
Vera Scholz and Nigel Simister
|INTRAC is a not-for-profit organisation that builds the skills and knowledge of civil
society organisations to be more effective in addressing poverty and inequality. Since
1992 INTRAC has provided specialist support in monitoring and evaluation, working
with people to develop their own M&E approaches and tools, based on their needs.
We encourage appropriate and practical M&E, based on understanding what works in
Interviews Surveys and questionnaires
We support skills development and learning on a range of
themes through high quality and engaging face-to-face,
online and tailor-made training and coaching.
|Email: [email protected]
Email: [email protected]
|Tel: +44 (0)1865 201851
Tel: +44 (0)1865 201851
For more papers in
the M&E Universe
series click the
M&E Training & Consultancy
INTRAC’s team of M&E specialists offer consultancy and
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