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  • Kye Campbell-Fox

So you participated in a focus group. Now what?


Focus groups are a staple of the research world. There are many different protocols for conducting them and every focus group is unique depending on the protocols used, the topic, the individuals involved, etc. Once the focus group has ended, though, many participants have the same question: what now?


People choose to participate in focus groups for any number of reasons: financial incentives, interest in the topic, a desire to help advance research, or other reasons. Some participants may not care what happens to their information afterwards, but many do and research teams are not always communicative with participants after the fact. So what happens after a focus group is over?


The post-focus group process

As with many aspects of research, this process will vary depending on what the researchers are looking for in the group’s data. However, this general description of the process will give you an idea of what the process can entail and why it takes so long for a research team to publish or present the data after data collection finishes.


First comes collecting the data. Your focus group is probably not the only that the research team is conducting. If the project is large enough, they may be conducting many focus groups - one of our recent projects had 17 focus groups, for example. And if it’s a specific enough population, it may take them a long time to recruit enough participants who meet their inclusion criteria. As a result, even if the team conducts your focus group today, they may still be doing focus groups a year from now and may not be ready to send out any results until after data collection is completed fully.


Once the data is collected, the team has to process the data they have, so that they can analyze it. This often looks like transcription of the focus group, a process that can be long and tedious. In the era of AI and auto-transcription, the process can sometimes be sped up. However, a human still has to check those auto-transcripts because there will be mistakes - no matter how good the AI technology is. Again, the timeline for this depends on the scope of the project: the amount of data there is, the amount of staff time that can be devoted to it, etc. There may also be notes or physical things from the focus group that need to be typed up or otherwise processed in order to be ready for the analysis stage.


After the data is processed, the research team can move to analysis. Analysis is a highly variable stage. In quantitative analysis, researchers might be looking for how often a particular word or topic came up in the focus group. In qualitative analysis, researchers may be working to find patterns and develop themes. This can be done manually or using software; it can be done by a single person or a team. There could be numerous topics of interest, or the team could be looking at only one or two subjects. But they are going to be using that data for something.


Finally, when data has been collected, processed, and analyzed, the team can write up their findings and look towards publishing the study. This requires them to make decisions about what to include or not include, as journal articles have limited space. Teams may also write more than one article in order to publish more of their findings. Space is limited, which means you may not see direct links to things you said - this does not mean your contributions were not valuable! They certainly were, even if your comments may have shaped the results in a less direct fashion. 


Additionally, many researchers don’t necessarily inform participants about results or published articles. Sometimes, they can’t, because of restrictions on contacting participants after a study’s completion (or because it was anonymous and they never had your contact info to begin with!). Sometimes researchers assume participants don’t need to know about the results. But what if you do want to know? 


At Trans-ilience, we have taken a few steps to improve the accessibility of our research to the communities we serve. Firstly and most importantly, when possible, we send out study summaries to participants so that they are kept informed about what is happening with their data. This isn’t always possible though, due to limitations from confidentiality, so we have other methods by which we share our study information. For example, we send out newsletters a few times a year with updates on studies we are recruiting for, recent presentations, team news, and publications. We also often share information about new articles and events on our Facebook and Instagram pages. If you’re interested in partnering with us to do presentations for your community organization or company, you can reach out to the lab leader, Dr. Jae Puckett at pucket26@msu.edu. If you are a fellow researcher, interested in learning more about our research, please feel free to reach out as well!

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