Social Work

Date of this version


Document Type



focus groups, research methods, social work, social sciences, group dynamics


Focus groups, originally used in fields such as marketing and consumer research, are rapidly gaining popularity as a research methodology in the social sciences. It is interesting to note that most of the scholarly work on focus groups continues to come from business rather than the social sciences. Few researchers have discussed the differing purposes and goals in social science and consumer research (Ospina, 1994; Moore, 1996). Furthermore, the literature on focus group research rarely utilizes social work knowledge of group dynamics or group facilitation skills. Rather, the literature on focus groups tends to give guidelines for leading groups, telling focus group facilitators what to do and what not to do in leading such groups. We believe that these guidelines, while generally helpful, can lead to rigidity on the part of focus group leaders. We suggest that,in social work research, focus group facilitators should use their knowledge of group dynamics and the values of individualization and empathy to modify focus group rules where appropriate.

This paper describes part of a qualitative study of client/worker relationships in residential mental health settings. During the course of this research, group work principles came into conflict, at times, with recommended guidelines for focus group leaders. The paper illustrates how insights gleaned from group work theory and practice can enable a researcher to break focus group rules responsibly, thus bringing greater depth to the data gathered and allowing the researcher to be more sensitive to the needs of focus group participants.





Published in

British journal of social work

Citation/Other Information

Garrett, K.J. & Cohen, M. (1999).Breaking the rules: A group work perspective on focus group research. British Journal of Social Work, 29 (3), 359-372.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.