Learning snapshot

101 | Ten tips for running effective focus groups.

Our ten tips will help you think through the why, what, and how of running an effective focus group to collect data and insights for an initiative.

07 September 2023

Ten tips for running effective focus groups.

If you’re considering running a focus group to collect data and insights for an initiative, but are not sure where to start, read our ten tips below.

Focus groups vary according to an initiative, but in a nutshell, they are a method of research that can be used to gather information on a specific topic. Focus groups can be made up of people who live in a particular geographical community, form part of a sector group, have lived experience or other unique insights which can help inform planning, development, implementation, and evaluation of initiatives.

These suggestions will help you to think through the why, what, and how of running an effective focus group, and hopefully help you to collect some of the important information you need to support and validate your work.

    1. Define the purpose: There is little point in bringing together a focus group just for the sake of it, so it is crucial to define its purpose at the outset. First, identify the specific objectives you have for convening the group, which align with project outcomes or information gaps you are seeking to close. You might think of this as a set of key questions that you need answered, or assumptions that you need validated. This will help guide group discussion.

    2. Choose participants that reflect the community: When selecting participants, ensure they reflect the community you are targeting. Before making selections, consider factors like age, gender, socio-economic status, and cultural background. Be aware that you might need to promote your focus group, or attract members in a few different ways, to ensure you achieve this representation. Some examples might be to run an open call out, mail or email direct invitations, or use community ambassadors to encourage participation.

    3. Create a comfortable setting: Ensuring the setting is comfortable will make participants feel at ease. If possible, hold the focus group in a venue that members are familiar with and comfortable in. Make sure they know how to get there by public transport and where parking is located, have someone on hand to welcome them as they arrive, and consider including a Welcome to Country from a Traditional Owner. A friendly and welcoming environment can make a big difference to participation and confidence.

    4. Establish trust: You are seeking information from your focus group members, and asking them to share their thoughts, opinions, and experiences. It is imperative to establish trust between the moderator and participants, and to be clear about how the information they share will be used. This will encourage a conversation that enables participants to speak freely and voice their opinions with confidence that their input will be treated with respect. If focus group members are coming to multiple sessions, having the same moderator can build rapport and connection between the group and the moderator.

    5. Ask open-ended questions: Asking open-ended questions will encourage participants to share personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings. This can provide you with in-depth insights into the community’s perceptions on the topic, from multiple viewpoints. It can also allow different kinds of voices to emerge, particularly where there are diverse cultural and demographic groups represented.

    6. Listen actively: Active listening is crucial in capturing and appropriately responding to the valuable information being shared. Pay attention to non-verbal communication like body language and facial expressions. Be aware of emotions and feelings that might arise and empower the moderator to take a short break or change the pace if it can help move the discussion forward.

    7. Keep control of the discussion: The role of the moderator is key to keeping control of the discussion and ensuring everyone has an opportunity to speak and participate. It can help to provide a framework or set ground rules for the conversation at the start of the focus group. This ensures everyone is aware of the parameters for the discussion and how you would like them to contribute.

    8. Record information accurately: Ensure you record information accurately as the discussion happens. Collecting accurate information can provide a useful reference point for future analysis. Having someone who can document both what is being said, and non-verbal cues can provide a record for later reflection. You can also consider other forms of documentation, like filming, audio recording, visual scribing, or photography. Be sure to inform your stakeholders of any recording and seek consent for its use.

    9. Provide feedback: After a focus group, provide feedback to the participants on the outcomes of the discussion. Providing participants with a summary of the discussion in writing can create an opportunity for additional feedback from those who might have something they didn’t feel comfortable sharing in the room, or who prefer different modes of communication.

    10. Use outcomes for decision-making: Use the insights gained from the focus group to inform decision-making and planning. Make sure that you update focus group members as to how the information they shared is being used by the team and how it will influence initiative outcomes. This can help build community buy-in for an initiative.


There are, of course, additional factors that might need consideration depending on the specifics of your focus group. These could include how to compensate your focus group members, whether you need a professional facilitator, whether your approach should be trauma informed, or whether support people are needed for the discussion.

Each focus group will be unique depending on the initiative it is supporting, the purpose, and the participants, but the tips above will provide a foundation for running an effective focus group for most simple initiatives.

Focus groups are a wonderful way to collect information and generate evidence that will allow you to determine the need for, or effectiveness of, your initiative and build buy-in and support from your target community and stakeholders.

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Western Australian Community Impact Hub acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are based, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation and extends that respect to all the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country. We recognise the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.