Seeing Data Blog

Trialling our focus groups

by Helen Kennedy • August, 13th 2014

This is a very exciting week for all of us on the Seeing Data team: we will finally begin to hear some responses to visualisations from members of the public. On Wednesday we will conduct our pilot focus group. A small number of individuals have been keeping diaries of the visualisations they have seen over the last week and will come to the University of Leeds to discuss their experiences. We will also ask them to look at more visualisations and talk about those with us. Running a pilot focus group is a valuable opportunity to hone our methods and processes before we begin to conduct the focus groups proper. We can observe what we’re doing well (and keep doing it) and tweak things that aren’t quite right.

We are using focus groups because they allow access to a relatively large amount of views in a short period of time. They also give access to attitudes, feelings and reactions, which is what we want to explore; and, moreover, data can be produced through participant interaction (Gibbs, 1997). Furthermore, focus groups can reduce the power imbalance between researcher and researched, as participants can take the lead in the discussion (Kitzinger and Barbour, 1999). Some participants will no doubt be very confident about speaking in groups and giving their opinions; however, we need to consider that participants may feel anxious about their abilities to ‘read’ visualisations and understand statistics, and thereby to ‘make sense’ of the data. These worries may have an impact upon how comfortable they feel in the research process: they may fear admitting their incomprehension or confusion. Our focus group planning has taken this into account and we will be aiming to help build the confidence of participants so that they may ‘speak their minds’.

Although this week’s focus group is a pilot, it will nevertheless provide us with a snapshot of different perspectives on visualisations and some sense of how people relate to them. It will also give us a taste of what’s to come over the next couple of months as we conduct focus groups around the UK.

Please note that this is a stock image and not an image of our real focus group participants.
Please note that this is a stock image and not an image of our real focus group participants.

Further reading

  • Gibbs, A. 1997. Focus groups. Social research update. 19(8).
  • Kitzinger, J. and Barbour, R.S. 1999. Introduction: the challenge and promise of focus groups. In: Barbour, R.S. and Kitzinger, J. eds. Developing Focus Group Research: Politics, Theory and Practice.  London: Sage, pp.1-21.
  • Project Methods (