During one of my many field visits to XXX School in Nairobi, I had an interesting experience. I thought it better to share and get opinions from the others who get a chance to read this. As part of a data collection exercise for the DirtPol Research Project, a focus group discussion was scheduled to take place […] at the school bus park. This focus group discussion was pre–planned and the different participants were expecting me at 9am on a Monday morning. I prepared well and at 8:30am I walked into the school and was received by A., the leader of the sub-ordinate staff. A. was the one who had organized the FGD and he was pleased to tell me that the participants were ready and eager to start. I thanked him and went ahead to greet the 15 members who had been gathered in one of the school buses for the FGD. I informed the participants that we would start in 10 minutes time and this gave me some time to relax, reflect and go through my topic guide just to refresh my memories. I noticed that all my participants in the interview were male. This did not bother me but I knew it would be a memorable one because it was the first FGD that I had done that was male–dominated.

10 minutes later I walked into the bus and was shown where to sit. This was at the front of the bus. A crate of soda which was turned upside –down was my seat. There was total silence as my participants looked at me waiting for what I would say. Once seated I greeted them warmly. I could sense the tension in the room. Everyone did not know what to expect including myself. I looked at all the participants and observed that they were from different age groups. Their age ranged from 25 – 60 years. We had a round of introductions which was done by A. who then handed the ball back to me. I took this opportunity to explain to them briefly about the DirtPol Project and the reason why we were gathered there. Most of them acknowledged to have seen me in the school for several months now. I went ahead to seek their voluntary informed consent to have the group discussion recorded. A. also informed me that he had briefed them earlier on about being recorded and they were okay with it.

I started the discussion going by asking them their opinion about Ebola disease. This was an issue that was being aired on media frequently for the past weeks. This set the discussion going and as we progressed other topics such as foods & eating habits, housing, politics, house chores, cleaning practices, occupation, lifestyles, culture, city life and challenges were discussed. 30 minutes later, one of the participants excused himself and went out. He was replaced by a new member 3 minutes later just as I was starting a discussion on cleaning practices. The new member fitted into the discussion very well and provided very useful insights together with the others. I did not mind since the change did not affect the flow at all. 10 minutes later, another member went out and just as in the first case was replaced by another new member. The discussion continued. This second new member was talkative and would motivate the quiet ones to talk as well. He seemed to have the energy and influence on the others. This trend of participants walking out and being immediately replaced by some ‘new’ others went on throughout the 3 hour session. By the end of the discussion, I had 14 new members, different from the ones I started with. The only constant participant was A. who was my contact person and was responsible for organizing the entire FGD. The number of members remained 15. I was amazed at this turn of events and also by the fact that the constant turn-over of participants did not affect the quality of data (but see Comment on Ethics, below).

At the end of the session everyone seemed happy and wanted to take part in a similar exercise next time. I ended the discussion and promised to be back. Once everyone was gone, I called A. aside in an effort to understand how the ‘turn-over FGD’ came to be. A. seemed disappointed in his people and could not also understand how it happened. According to him, the sub–ordinate staff in XXX School are 40 in number and he had randomly selected 15 of them to participate in the FGD. He struggled to understand how 14 new members got involved. I told him not to worry, thanked him for the effort to organize the group and went away. I took time in the evening to listen to the interview once more while and later reflected on the day. I only came to one conclusion that more than 15 sub-ordinate staff wanted to be involved in the FGD but since their leader, A. only selected 15 of them, the rest decided to come up with a plan of getting involved. This plan had to be implemented in collaboration with the selected sample. The aim was to ensure the sample size remained as 15 while at the same time ensuring that 30 participants got a chance to get involved. It worked!! Everyone was happy and I collected my data. My conclusion is just an assumption and I could be wrong. The big question remains. “Is this type of methodology acceptable in modern research?”

About the author: Anne Kirori is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in education and schools. Anne’s based in Nairobi, is 26 years old and fluent in Kiswahili, English and German.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex. For more information please visit the DirtPol website

Follow DirtPol on Twitter: @ProjectDirtPol

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Posted in Research Methods
  1. Claire Craig says:

    Comment from Professor Newell on ethics:

    In spite of the pleasure taken by participants in this ‘turn-over’ FGC, numerous ethical questions and problems are raised by this experience, including the fact that each time a new participant enters a group in the manner described above, the FGD leader is required to inform them about the project, to ask them to consent to being recorded, and to obtain their voluntary consent … each and every time in the same full detail as given at the outset of the discussion. This means that for the above discussion, there would have to be fifteen separate full explanations of the project, plus consent processes, in order to meet ethical standards. What do readers of this blog suggest in these circumstances? Does anybody have similar experiences to share with Anne?

  2. Felix O. says:

    I will like to share a similar experience of FGD conducted in Ibadan, Nigeria on empowerment of rural women and sustainable development. After several visits to the community to seek approval from the community head and the women leader and to prepare them for the FGD, the women turned out with all sense of readiness to hear and to know what the programme was. The meeting point was the market square during the market day. They all left their buying and selling after the announcement of our arrival. We (research assistants) distributed ourselves into smaller group of ten women. The initial experience was the challenge of majority of the women being illiterates. We conducted pre-test after a short introduction and went ahead to the discussion proper. It was during the post-test that we saw some women complaining that they had no group and they must participate in what their fellow women are doing (sense of belonging). We persuaded them that a next round would come up next time. Meanwhile, some had struggled to get into any group of their choice without the knowledge of what others had done and what was actually going on. In attempt to resolve the turn-over in the FGD, we allowed them in. Surprisingly, some of them had the grasp of what we were doing without actually participating in the earlier sections. In this sense, what do you expect us to have done or how can we separate the data of the new arrivals from the existing ones. Is this method appropriate?

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