• Open Access

Perils and possibilities: achieving best evidence from focus groups in public health research


Correspondence to: Dr Karen Willis, Mother and Child Health Research, LaTrobe University, 324-328 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Vic 3000. Fax: (03) 6324 3970; e-mail: K.Willis@latrobe.edu.au


Objective: Focus group research is often seen as a cost-effective way of gathering evidence from multiple research participants about the diversity of their views, experiences or beliefs. Our objective is to argue that focus group research only fulfils its potential if analysis of individual views is extended to include analysis of interaction between participants, so that we learn more why people hold these views.

Approach: We outline the literature on focus group research, contrasting the ‘quick-and-easy’ approach with the demands of studies that are designed, conducted and analysed in a methodologically rigorous way to yield high quality public health evidence.

Conclusion: Well-conducted focus groups contribute good evidence for public health decision making. The challenges of conducting high-quality studies should not be underestimated, and must involve rigorous analysis of both interaction and content.