It’s hard to do a focus group with 12 or more students! With so many people and so little time, you know it’s going to be hard to hear from the quieter students, but that may be who you need to hear from the most! Or, maybe some of the questions are sensitive – the students with the most to lose may be the least likely to speak up. What can you do? Mutual interviewing. Here is how you do it.
This method works great for non-English speakers, as long as all participants speak the same language and your co-facilitator and one person in each group is bilingual.
Warnings: The setup is time-consuming, it is very hard to explain, pandemonium ensues, people start out confused, they are often afraid they’ll do it wrong, and it is noisy (a big room is best!).
Promises: Participants are engaged, it accommodates much larger groups than a traditional focus group, everyone participates and no one can dominate, responses are anonymous except to the one individual who heard the response, it builds community and enthusiasm, and it is an empowering process.
Preparation (the researcher):
- Create interview guides for four distinct topics related to a project, such as program strengths, program weaknesses, suggestions for improvement, future plans, how you learn best, or personal challenges that might interfere. The challenge is to identify the most important topics that are far enough apart that people do not give the same answer to each question.
- Create detailed interview guides, perhaps including probe questions the group members can use to help their interviewees get traction on the question. Each group member interviewer will need four copies of his or her group’s interview guide (one for each interviewee, plus one to fill out himself/herself).
- Prepare nametags with a group and ID number (to ensure confidentiality) (e.g., 3-1 would be Group 3, member 1). Make sure the groups are equal in size – with between 3 and 6 members per group. This method allows you to conduct the focus group activity with up to 24 people! The nametags help member-interviewers and member-interviewees from the designated groups find each other during the rounds.
- Create a brief demographic survey, and pre-fill it with Group and ID numbers to match the nametags. (The ID links the survey with interview responses gathered during the session, and this helps avoid double counting responses during analysis. You can also disaggregate interview responses by demographics.)
- Set up four tables for the groups and label them clearly with group number.
- Provide good food and have it ready to welcome the participants as they walk in the door.
During the Session:
At the time of the focus group, help people to arrange themselves into 4 equal-sized groups of between 3 and 6 members. Assign one of the topics to each group. Group members will research their topic by interviewing someone from each of the other groups (and being interviewed in return by their counterparts). After completing all rounds of interviews, they come back to their own group and answer the questions themselves. Then they discuss what they heard with each other, and report it out. The report-out gives other people the opportunity to add thoughts or clarify their views.
- As participants arrive, give them a nametag with Group and ID number and have them fill out a brief demographic survey (which you have pre-filled with their group/id number). The group number will indicate the table where they should sit.
- Explain the participant roles: Group Leader, Interviewer, and Interviewee.
- One person in each group is recruited to serve as a group leader and note taker during the session. This person will also participate in a debrief afterward to provide insights or tidbits gleaned during their group’s discussion.
- The group leader will brief their group members on their topic and review the interview guide.
- Interviewer/Interviewee: During each round, each member is paired with one person from another group, and they take turns interviewing each other about their group’s topic.
- Give members 5 minutes to review the interview guide and answer the questions on their own. They can also discuss with others in their group.
- After 5 minutes, pair each member up with a partner from another group for the interview (i.e., Group 1 and Group 2, Group 3 and Group 4). The members should mark a fresh interview sheet with their interviewee’s Group-ID number and then they take turns interviewing each other. Make sure they take notes during the interview. Give the first interviewer 5 minutes, then switch roles, and repeat the process.
- Rotate and pair each member with someone from a different group (Group 1 and 3, Group 2 and 4) and repeat the interviews using a fresh interview sheet, marked with the new interviewee’s Group-ID number. Again, each member will interview the other for five minutes.
- Finally, rotate again and pair up members from Groups 1 and 4 and Groups 2 and 3 for the final round. Mark the third clean interview sheet with each interviewee’s Group-ID number and interview each other for five minutes.
- Once all pairings are finished, members return to their original groups. Each member takes 5 minutes to complete or revise their own interview form, possibly enriched by the perspectives of 3 other people.
- The Group Leader facilitates a 15-minute discussion, during which participants compare notes and prepare a flip chart to report out their findings. The Group Leader should take notes during the discussion. (Tip: Sometimes it’s helpful to provide guiding questions for the report-out.)
- Each group then has about five minutes to report the compiled findings. (Tip: During the reports, have some questions prepared to further spark conversation).
After the Session:
- Hold a brief (10-15 minute) meeting with the Group Leaders and have them talk about the process, insights, or tidbits that did not make it to the flip chart and provide any additional feedback to the researcher.
Results of the process:
You will now have demographic data from the surveys, notes from the individual interview sheets, the group leaders’ combined notes, and the flip charts of combined responses to each question.
To learn more about mutual interviewing, see pages 51-55 of Research Toolkit for Program Evaluation and Needs Assessments Summary of Best Practices.