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Reflections on the use of online focus groups in housing research Dr Tom Moore and Dr Kim McKee Centre for Housing Research, University of St Andrews Housing.

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Presentation on theme: "Reflections on the use of online focus groups in housing research Dr Tom Moore and Dr Kim McKee Centre for Housing Research, University of St Andrews Housing."— Presentation transcript:

1 Reflections on the use of online focus groups in housing research Dr Tom Moore and Dr Kim McKee Centre for Housing Research, University of St Andrews Housing Studies Association Conference 2014

2 Outline Introduction to our study and background to online focus groups Reflections on the applicability of online focus groups Strategies of recruitment The size, composition and hosting of focus groups Interactive procedures of data collection Advantages and limitations

3 What is a focus group? “A research technique that collects data through group interaction on a topic determined by the researcher.” (Morgan, 1996) Interaction between a group of participants generates the bulk of data, rather than Q&A between participants and researchers. Adaptation of focus groups to growing prevalence of computer-mediated communication in online settings. 87% of young adults (aged 18-24) use social networking as a form of online communication (ONS, 2013) Online groups are synchronous, real-time exchanges similar to chatrooms.

4 About our study Research on the housing opportunities and financial welfare of young people aged 18- 35 in the UK. What do young people think of the difficulties they face with housing? Access to home ownership and growing reliance on family support Issues with rental housing including access, cost, and declining security of tenure 20 online focus groups in 10 areas of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (plus 30 telephone interviews across the case study areas). Rationale for online focus groups: Overcome barriers of time and space synonymous with qualitative research Engage young people by using an attractive and common medium of communication.

5 Strategies of recruitment Two main recruitment strategies were used to identify potential participants in each case study area. 1) Use of local gatekeepers (key contacts at relevant organisations) in each area. 2) Web-based snowball sampling through dedicated project social network accounts Use of the interactive micro-blogging tool Twitter, used to share online material. Each Twitter account has its own set of followers. Each user can share information with their followers by ‘retweeting’ the messages of other users. Retweet requests were a productive way of promoting our study to a larger number of people. Accessed large number of people in a shorter period of time than conventional sampling techniques. Messages were shared with several thousands of people, but limitations include: Lack of certainty that these people meet your sampling criteria. Digital exclusion

6 The size, composition and hosting of online focus groups The size and composition of online focus groups is an important consideration, as it has implications for the data that is collected. The size of our groups was dictated by levels of participant recruitment and availability. Challenging to arrange mutually convenient dates and times. Problem of non-attendance and problems with technology. Our focus groups were composed of participants with shared characteristics based on housing circumstances and age. In some cases it was necessary to have heterogeneous groups. Risk of creating ‘outsiders’. Dilemma for moderation: need to elicit contributions from all participants, while letting discussions flow. Here, the online environment was a hindrance, as the lack of human interaction (visual or non-verbal cues) gave us no insight into the ‘outsider’s’ mood.

7 Interactive data collection procedures Advocates of web-based research claim it can enhance disclosure on sensitive topics due to anonymity, while others claim the lack of human interaction reduces interpersonal exchanges and encourages formulaic, procedural dynamics. Interpersonal exchanges were not visibly diminished: participants established rapport through text-based interactions on their shared experiences of local housing. Rapport helped harness disclosure on personal issues of limited housing access and financial welfare. However, online environment also poses challenges. Online groups defy conversational turn-taking and messages and responses are posted simultaneously. Participants required to have quick typing skills and be able to keep pace with live discussions. Difficulties for moderators also, as the speed and dynamism means topics can change frequently. While participant-led discussions are encouraged, this can lead to ‘mission drift’.

8 Use of external stimulus

9 In conclusion... Online focus groups offer a number of advantages for researchers: Time, cost and complexity of our study would have been greater if we had used conventional face-to-face focus groups. Beneficial in overcoming barriers of time and space. They also offer advantages in capitalising on increased societal use of the internet as a social space and communication tool. Online recruitment through social media suggests a potentially productive avenue as a qualitative research and recruitment tool, hitherto unexplored in depth. Limitations include: The lack of human interaction – difficult to judge people’s moods and emotions solely through text. Risks of digital exclusion

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