• Taher MV

The future of focus groups is being paved by students

Updated: May 24, 2021

A focus group is a moderated discussion between a small number of participants. They use group interaction to collect data and study behavior, especially in a group of demographically similar people. Focus groups are effective because they allow one to understand the rationale behind important decisions and often find answers they didn’t go looking for.

While quantitative data is the backbone of statistics and analysis, qualitative data provides the reasons behind certain data metrics. A simple distinction between the two is that quantitative data is measured and qualitative data is interpreted. Looking at receipts can easily find the most purchased cereal brand, but an interview will uncover the behavioral economics behind the choice and what can be replicated in the future. Focus groups are primarily used by corporations to conduct target market research, in order to connect with their customers and understand their behavior. However, in today’s racially charged climate, schools across the country are investing in Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) consultants to gather qualitative data.. These consultants often conduct student focus groups to provide insight to school administration and understand how racial inequality affects their community. While their DEI strategies may be well-meaning, they often incorporate little to no student stakeholders. This lack of involvement leads to out-of-touch conclusions and leaves schools without the student-centric policy they need to provide a more inclusive and healthy environment.

While teachers bring a sort of professionalism to the conversation, they are often limited in what they can say and the discussion is restricted to what students feel comfortable sharing with their teacher. This hesitancy is removed when the focus group is student-led and run.

Focus groups aren’t only good for collecting information; they also provide valuable opportunities for students to grow academically and personally. After participating, students can feel more open and comfortable sharing their ideas and more at ease with public speaking. While people may initially value the advice of an expert or adult, their peers make the biggest impact on their behavior because they internalize their collective response more than that of a single authority figure.

The Acceptance Project (TAP) is blazing its own path with student-led focus groups and has large plans for the future. For 5 years, TAP has brought students together to discuss topics they find troubling, exciting, or interesting in an environment free of judgment and hate. The mediation techniques that have allowed successful civil discourse to take place are being translated into a focus group format, about students, for students, and led by students. TAP is opening a new door that will usher in more student input, greater political and racial equality, and an example for the future.

Similar to CBRS, the philosophy behind “TAP into Focus Groups” is that the community members most affected by a social issue should be the source of information needed to solve it. The focus group is sponsored by East Stroudsburg University (ESU) and will take place this May at Stroudsburg Area School District (SASD). We have recruited graduate student facilitators from ESU’s Diversity Dialogue Project (DDP) to mediate the focus group and to collect qualitative data on how SASD students engage in conversations centered around race. Because the facilitation and dialogue are youth-driven, we will be able to gather diverse and authentic student insight; translating to accurate and representative data findings. The data will then be shared with the SASD administration in order to further inform their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

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