What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of a focus group?
Mostly likely a small group of people–typically between 8-12 in size–gathered around a table, responding to a facilitator’s questions while being recorded. There may be some snacks involved.
Focus groups are a qualitative data activity used to gather feedback on a product, program or service from a group of people who have some type of commonality, such as age, race, gender, work experience, etc. The information they share can help the organizations or businesses gain a better understanding of why something is working, why it’s not working, and how that something impacts their lived experience.
If you’ve ever facilitated a focus group, you might know how boring they can be. And if you’ve been in a focus group, you definitely know how boring they can be. But what I’ve noticed is this: Focus groups are not boring, technically. It’s how they are structured that makes them boring. There are more engaging ways to conduct a focus group. One of those methods is the World Cafe.
First, some background
From The World Café: Living Knowledge through Conversations that Matter, the World Cafe is a methodology that invites large group dialogue. While in a basic focus group, participants are asked a question and discuss it openly, the World Cafe takes it a step further by allowing for a larger group of participants to be in the space. While they are discussing the question amongst themselves, the conversation flows more freely because it’s a conversation amongst the group rather than the group responding directly to the facilitator. Also, the group is helping the facilitator collect data in a more dynamic, participatory way.
Based on recommended World Cafe design principles, the focus of the World Cafe:
- Set the context– What is the purpose for bringing people into the space, and what do you (and the group) want to achieve?
- Create hospitable space– Pay attention to how the space is set up. Is it comfortable and inviting? If accessibility is a need, does the space function so that those with certain needs are comfortable in the space?
- Explore questions that matter– You can explore a single question or you can develop questions that build on each other. Either way, you’ll be able to synthesize the data to explore common themes
- Encourage everyone’s contribution– Encourage everyone to participate in ways that work for them. While some find it easier to express themselves verbally, others may find it better to draw or simply listen
- Connect diverse perspectives– The key to the World Cafe is sharing perspectives. When participants move about the room (more on this later), they’re meeting new people, seeing ideas and thoughts that have been generated, and sharing new insights
- Listen together for patterns and insights– Shared listening is the key factor in the success of a World Cafe. This is the way to look for themes. Encourage people to listen for what is not being spoken along with what is being shared
- Share collective discoveries– Once the World Cafe is complete, invite participants to reflect on patterns, themes and questions expressed and to share them with the larger group
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Up to 5 tables, with enough room for at least 5 participants
- Flipchart paper, markers, and pens/pencils at each table
- Post-it notes
- Bell or chime to get participants’ attention
- One question per table
- A leader for each group, to start
One of my clients conducted a World Cafe activity in the summer of 2016 with various community organizations. The organizations invited people from the community and participants from their programs and services to discuss the most pressing issues related to accessing reproductive health care services in their communities, and their overall understanding of Reproductive Justice.
Some questions asked included:
- What does Reproductive Justice look like to you and your community?
- In what ways are you and your community able to access reproductive health services?
- What prevents you and your community from accessing reproductive health services?
- If you could tell your community about Reproductive Justice, what would you say?
- How can the organizations in your community help you to achieve Reproductive Justice?
Have one participant volunteer to serve as the leader of that table. One question is posed at each table, and participants are free to discuss, write out, or draw what the questions represented for them. The leader helps to write out the responses and encourages discussion. After several minutes, participants are invited to rotate to another table. The leader remains at the table to summarize what took place in the previous group to the new group. Then a new participant volunteers to be the leader. Here’s a short video that visualizes the process.
After participants go to each table and make it back to their original table, take the flip chart paper from each table to display them on walls around them room. Invite participants to do a gallery walk see how other participants responded. Invite participants to place a star by something that resonates highly with them. This can serve as a visual representation for all participants as it shows what the commonalities are among the larger group, and it helps you to see what themes you can generate from this information.
The World Cafe is a great engagement tool that beats the boredom of a traditional focus group while allowing you to gather the information you need. And this doesn’t need to be for a focus group. This can be done in a classroom setting or in other settings as well to break the monotony. Try this, and let me know how it goes for you.
RAISE YOUR VOICE: Have you facilitated or participated in a World Cafe? What was the process like and what did you take away from the experience? Share below in the comments section.