Methodological Issues of Applying Focus Groups with Children
Deparment of Sociology Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt Eichstaett, Germany
Children are increasingly seen as competent informants when their interests and needs are at focus. We cannot only rely on assessments of adults as children have their own view. This has consequences for the social research methods we apply. Typically research methods are developed with adults and their abilities in mind. But children have different needs and abilities and therefore pose specific demands on research design and researcher. Although in practice there is some research employing children so far methodological considerations are rare.
In this paper focus groups as means of data collection are examined. Guiding questions are: Which peculiarities result regarding the method of focus groups when carried out with children? How can we enhance children?s potential of participation? How can we improve data quality by adapting the method to respondent?s abilities? The analyses are based on five focus groups conducted with children and adolescents aged 6 to 16 in Germany dealing with comparable topics and tasks. Verbal, interactive and cognitive abilities of children in focus group situations, different levels of activities during the focus groups, specifics of group interaction as well as procedural aspects and their implications for the feasibility of focus group research were core categories of the analyses. Furthermore, to reach a broad picture of the focus groups, not only respective qualitative (e.g. evaluation of the content of the statements) but also quantitative aspects (e.g. amount of words used) were considered. These factors were used to draw conclusions regarding cognitive, social and verbal abilities of children at different ages in focus group situations, the consequences for the method as well as the resulting advantages and disadvantages.
The results show the different abilities and needs of each age group and point out consequences for feasibility and potential gain in insights through focus groups with children.