Comparing focus group and individual responses on sensitive topics: A study of water decision makers in a desert city

Amber Wutich, Timothy Lant, Dave White, Kelli Larson, Meredith Gartin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Scopus citations

Abstract

Focus groups have gained a reputation for facilitating data collection about sensitive topics. However, we know little about how focus group methods perform compared to individual response formats, particularly for sensitive topics. The goal of this study is to assess how well focus groups perform when compared to individual responses collected using open-ended self-administered questionnaires for sensitive policy-making topics among water decision makers in Phoenix, Arizona. The analysis compares focus group and self-administered questionnaire responses among fifty-five decision makers for three types of sensitive topics: competence, risk, and gatekeeping. The results indicate that respondents (1) gave similar responses in group and open-ended self-administered questionnaires when discussion topics were only moderately sensitive, (2) volunteered less information in focus groups than in open-ended self-administered questionnaires for very sensitive topics when there did not appear to be a compelling reason for respondents to risk being stigmatized by other group members, and (3) volunteered more information in focus groups than in open-ended self-administered questionnaires for very sensitive topics when there appeared to be an opportunity to exchange important information or solve a pressing problem. The authors conclude that multimethod research-including individual and group response formats-may be the best strategy for collecting data from decision makers about sensitive policy-related issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-110
Number of pages23
JournalField Methods
Volume22
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2010

Keywords

  • Arizona
  • Climate change
  • Policy makers
  • Qualitative methods
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology

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