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Chapter 8

📍Focus groups and story analysis

💯 Double-check that you have all the essential elements needed to conduct an analysis of stories:

  • Stories
  • Focus group participants who represent the community which the stories were collected from, have given informed consent and have the availability, language skills, and internet access to participate fully (if online)
  • Facilitator guide and note-taker templates
  • One facilitator and two note-takers per focus group. They should have been trained on facilitator guide and note-taking templates, respectively
  • For in-person: Sticky notes, pens, table that all participants can gather around
  • For virtual: A virtual web conferencing tool, and a virtual whiteboard where stories can be visually represented, sorted, and discussed

🎨 Design the focus group discussion of stories in three ways:

  1. In-person approach: Print out the stories, gather focus group participants, and host the focus group in a room with a large table, where printed stories can be moved around, sorted, annotated, and piled together.

➕ Benefits: May be more accessible for people who do not have stable internet access or experience with digital tools. Can also allow for participants to more fully interact with the stories and see one another’s body language.

➖ Potential pitfalls: Requires geographic proximity and mutual availability among participants.

  1. Hybrid approach: Create different focus groups that may be fully in-person or fully virtual. This is a good option if some participants are geographically clustered, but others are located elsewhere or have schedules that make it difficult to participate in person.

➕ Benefits: Maximizes participation across locations and time zones.

➖ Potential pitfalls: Can be more difficult to coordinate.

  1. Fully virtual approach: Host focus groups online and use digital conferencing and whiteboard tools.

➕ Benefits: Can allow for geographically dispersed groups to convene in a virtual space and allow for more flexibility in timing of discussions.

➖ Potential pitfalls: Can exclude people with low internet connectivity or tech proficiency. Requires facilitators and note-takers to navigate through virtual whiteboards successfully while running focus groups.

🍍 Invite participants to focus groups well in advance, and ensure they have all received stories to read before the focus groups begin, with a request to not share outside the focus group. Set expectations that they only need to read the stories and be ready to summarize them and share their thoughts at the focus group.

👁️‍🗨️ Remind participants that they should bring their whole selves to the discussion, that they are experts in their own experiences, which will allow them to more reliably interpret important themes from the stories that come from the same community.

🎬 Convene the focus group and start with the following:

  • Welcome participants
  • Introduce yourself and other members of the project team
  • Invite everyone to introduce themselves
  • Do a break-the-ice exercise (e.g., what is the meaning of your name?)
  • Explain how the focus group will run and summarize house rules
  • Check that everyone has their assigned stories
    • In-person: Check that everyone has received printouts of their assigned stories
    • Virtual: Check that everyone can use the whiteboard and see their assigned stories
  • Invite each participant to summarize their assigned stories

💬 Promote discussions of and reactions to stories in three ways:

  • Pair participants or bring them together in subgroups to discuss stories before larger group discussions
  • Offer ways for participants to provide feedback in multiple formats (e.g., written, voting, emoji reactions)
  • If virtual: Offer ways for participants to provide feedback asynchronously

🗣️ Ask participants to reflect on the shared stories. Prompts may include:

  • Did you have any experiences similar to the storyteller’s?
  • What element of the story stood out to you the most? Why?
  • How did the storyteller experience or describe change?
  • What were some of the barriers to or facilitators of addressing the health or information challenge?
  • How do the stories you shared relate to the other stories we have already discussed?

🖼️ Remind participants to focus less on quality of writing or delivery of the story and more about the substance — what they remember after they have read it.

✍️ As participants say keywords or repeat topics or themes that were mentioned earlier, write them onto sticky notes and put them on the work surface. Participants can also help with this.

🌡️ Halfway through sharing all of the stories, do a temperature check with the focus group and ask what themes or trends everyone is hearing and ensure that these have been captured in the sticky notes.

🧦 Once all stories have been discussed, ask participants to sort them into piles near the stickies that reflect major themes of stories. It is likely that some stories will match multiple themes:

  • Virtual: Duplicate the story sticky and move to appropriate themes
  • In-person: Add sticky notes of a different color with the story title to appropriate themes

🔻 Once stories have been associated with themes, help participants narrow down the stories to 2-3 that best represent change in their community. Often, these will include challenges or enablers to positive change. How they whittle down the stories should ideally be decided in group consensus. However, here are three other ways to determine the “winning” stories:

  • Participants can vote for their favorite stories through dots (virtual) or show of hands (in person).
  • Start with the theme or topic that has the most stories associated with it and discuss whether to choose stories from the three most prevalent themes.
  • Conduct a pair-based process of elimination by pairing up participants and asking them to pit their favorite assigned story against their partner’s, choose a winner, then meet up with another pair of participants and repeat the process until 2-3 stories are left.

Note: Often, stories will have multiple themes, and can be grouped in multiple ways. Online, you can duplicate a sticky with the story and post them in different places. In person, you can create new stickies with the story title on them and assign them to different themes. 

❣️Capture the reasons why the 2-3 stories have been chosen, asking participants to explain why these stories are significant to understanding the impact of the health topic and the information environment on the community.

❔Ask participants, based on these stories:

  • What recommendations do you have for fixing identified challenges or leveraging identified enablers? 
  • What actions would support the storytellers if they ever encountered the same situation in the future?

🙏 Thank participants for their time and contributions and let them know what will happen after all focus groups are completed.

📷 Visually document the final layout of stickies and stories.

📓 Meet with note-takers and review their notes. Ask them to consolidate their notes into one set per focus group.

☝️ After each focus group, meet with the project team to discuss what worked well, what needed improvement, and whether any adjustments should be made for future focus groups.

⬆️ Upload recordings, notes, screenshots, and other focus group documentation to a central repository for easy reference.

Visit the resources page for templates, tools, and more.
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