Focus group strategies in community development

23 Sep 2016

This paper presents a critical perspective on managing Focus Group Sessions (FGSs) that are focussed on pertinent development issues within socially disadvantaged communities; and particularly investigates the role of the interpreter in facilitating a discourse which extensively takes place outside the usual socio-cultural domain of the researcher. The experiences around a series of FGSs are reported which were conducted as part of a broader ICT4D environmental assessment study that took place in the former Transkei region of the Eastern Cape as part of an ICT4D environmental assessment study. The paper explores, in particular, the perceived non-reporting of information in the interpreter-toparticipants exchanges (IPE) versus researcher-to-interpreter exchanges (RIE) ? on the basis of observed imbalances in the IPE and RIE dynamics. This paper consequently focuses on the socio-cultural and power relationships that may manifest within sessions and potentially compromise the effective gathering of data and information against the defined agenda of the researcher. The best traditions of qualitative research recognise the notion of shared control of the research experience (Krueger & Casey, 2000; Grudens-Schuck et al., 2004); and the community should therefore be able to direct the fore-grounding of their own agenda - if such exists in contrast to that of the researcher. This sets the scene for a power struggle within the FGS, and it is in this regard, that it is proposed that the interpreter could play an important role. Jojola (2000) warns that development is not charity; and communities-in-development should be the enablers of their own destiny; and external development participation in the communities should be based on principled and strategic approaches. This paper supports the views of Grudens-Schuck et al. (2004) that FGSs can produce high quality data and information if correctly structured and argues that a critical approach is indicated to navigate the process through the challenges of the socio-cultural divide. Furthermore, the researcher has to be conscientious of the character, capacity and the underlying power dynamics in the community that produces the experiences observed during the FGSs.