Self-directed Learning Experience – How we learned to conduct Focus Groups

TRP students, Cheryl, Gurpreet, Lily, and Tiffanie, share how they learned how to conduct Focus Groups for their Capstone Project.

We recognized that mental health crisis is a widespread issue affecting many students across university campuses, and ultimately, this became the basis of our Capstone Project. In order to understand the mental health challenges faced by UofT students at the St. George campus, we conducted exploratory interviews with students during the summer of 2016. These initial interviews were helpful in providing us with insights on the challenges faced by students accessing mental health support at the UofT Health and Wellness Centre (H&W). However, to gain a holistic understanding of the problem, we wanted to understand the “need” from the service providers perspective as well. Therefore, we planned on conducting five focus groups with different mental health care providers at the H&W (receptionists, nurses, family physicians, counsellors, and psychiatrists) and two focus group sessions with students.

At first, even thinking about preparing for these focus group sessions was overwhelming and daunting since none of our team or committee members had any experience in conducting focus groups, but as Joseph always says, the best way to learn how to do something is by actually doing it. So we began the self-directed learning process by reading research articles and watching online educational videos. However, we quickly realized that designing appropriate focus group questions would be both difficult and time-consuming. After a lengthy process of drafting tailored focus group questions for our diverse participant groups, we began networking with individuals who could provide us with their expertise in designing and conducting effective focus groups. We found a TRP mentor and qualitative researcher who was willing to guide us and help us refine our focus group questions. Our key feedback included limiting ourselves to 4-6 core and concise questions, avoiding leading questions, and providing a clear expectation of the objective of the focus group to the participants at the beginning of the session.

During each focus group, we took up specific roles and responsibilities to ensure a smooth execution of our focus group sessions. We rotated the roles across each session to ensure that each person had the opportunity to introduce our study as well as to moderate, note-take, and obtain consent for a given focus group. Following each session, we debriefed and reflected as a team. We then adapted the lessons learned from each session to revise the questions accordingly to better tailor them for our upcoming focus groups. Overall, our greatest challenges in moderating focus groups was ensuring participants remained on topic, asking appropriate follow-up questions, and staying aware of the time constraint of the sessions.

Currently, we have conducted a total of 6 focus groups, and thus far, it has been a very valuable learning experience. We have made strides in gaining both the communication and moderation skills necessary to build rapport with the participants, to gain greater insights into their experiences and opinions, and to take note of non-verbal communication expressed. Our next challenge is to analyze the qualitative data we obtained from these focus groups. We look forward to incorporating all the lessons we learned from moderating our final focus group and to the next phase of our Capstone project – the Co-creation workshop to ideate potential solutions.

 Cheryl, Gurpreet, Lily, and Tiffanie

Follow and like us: