Focus Group Facilitation


  • To learn strategies for running a successful focus group
  • To agree on a focus group protocol


  • Butcher paper/flip chart paper/whiteboard/chalkboard
  • Markers/dry erase markers/chalk
  • Tape
  • “Checklist for Focus Group Facilitators” handout (1 per participant)
  • “Facilitation Scenarios” handout (1 copy)
  • Scissors
  • “Tools for Focus Group Facilitators” handout (1 per participant)
  • “Focus Group Facilitator Roles and Responsibilities” handout (1 per participant)

Prepare Before

Write the three main responsibilities of a facilitator up on the whiteboard, chalkboard, butcher paper, or flip chart paper (see Experience).

Warm Up

Ask participants to stand up and silently arrange themselves in a line according to the number of hours of TV they watch each week – from fewest number of hours of TV watched to most (point to where the most and the fewest go). They can make signals and nod, but nothing else. Once they are lined up, have them go down the line and say how many hours they watch.

Debrief: Ask the people who watch the most TV, “What do we know about the people who watch the least TV?” Then ask the people who watch the least, “What they know about the people who watch the most?” Have them generate as many ideas as they can. Then ask the group, “What do we know about the people in the middle?” After the group has named all of their assumptions about each of the groups based on the amount of TV watched per week, ask “What do we really know about anyone based on the amount of TV they watch? Can we really know anything about someone for sure based on the amount of TV they watch? What else would you need to know?” This is a great opportunity to talk about how the mind likes to categorize and make meaning, even when all of the facts are not present, and about how we make assumptions about people and things based on limited information. Tie this to the importance of evidence and inquiry!


Explain that, like the host of a talk show, a focus group facilitator has a particular role. This person asks questions to get people talking and keeps the conversation going. This process of keeping everything in order and guiding the conversation is called facilitating. To facilitate means to make easier or less difficult, to help move forward. A facilitator is responsible for three main things:

  1. Making sure everyone has a chance to participate.
  2. Creating a safe and trusting atmosphere.
  3. Listening and asking questions.


As a group, brainstorm strategies for recruiting focus group participants and facilitating a focus group. What are some activities or strategies that a facilitator could use to get people to share their ideas and opinions? Think about a talk show host: how does he or she get people to talk and express themselves? (Record these.)

If you decide to run a focus group, you will need to recruit at least six to 10 people for an hour-long conversation. What are some ideas you have for getting people to participate in your focus group? (Record these.)

You either audiotape or videotape a focus group to record what everyone says. What are some ideas for how you could organize the main ideas from a focus group when you listen or watch your tape? (Record these.)

Hand out the Tools for Focus Group Facilitators and Checklist for Focus Group Facilitators. Review the sheets with the participants and have them add ideas from the brainstorm.


Divide participants into three groups. Have each group assign a facilitator.

Give groups 10 minutes to plan and practice a scenario where the facilitator is doing a good job with at least one of the three main responsibilities: listening, creating a trusting atmosphere, or making sure everyone has a chance to participate. Give participants about 10 minutes to plan their scenario and then three-five minutes to present it to the group.


After each group presents, ask for feedback from everyone. What did the facilitator do well? (Remember to bracket constructive criticism with positives!). Would you revise any of the questions? Which questions work the best? Which ones would you revise? Anything that would be interesting to add?

Outline next steps for planning and implementing your focus group. You can also assign this as a small-team take-home task.