Re-Focus: The efficacy and appropriateness of Focus Group Discussions for health research in Aboriginal contexts

(Australian Research Council)

Duration: January 2013 – December 2015


Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) are a common way of gathering qualitative data in Aboriginal health services research, however there have been no studies on the question of whether they are appropriate research tools in such contexts, nor are there are specific guidelines available to ensure that FGDs are delivered to collect data in ways that are consistent with Aboriginal approaches to consultation, ownership and ways of knowing. The aim of this project is to generate knowledge to inform the accountable, culturally appropriate, ethically sound and methodologically rigorous use of FGDs in qualitative Aboriginal health service research.

What we did

The Re-Focus study employed a three-staged design using qualitative methods and tools to answer a number of key research questions which provided multiple perspectives on FGDs in health services research in order to explore the extent to which the current use of FGDs is consistent with Aboriginal approaches to consultation, ownership and ways of knowing. Our starting point was the literature and situation analysis of Aboriginal health services research throughout Australia over the past 10 years (2004 – 2014) conducted by the investigator team. In this work we described the broad characteristics of Aboriginal health research which utilise FGDs and identified four major categories of Aboriginal health service research which represents the various ways and contexts in which focus groups are currently carried out: 1) Peer reviewed (NHMRC/ARC) funded research; 2) Commonwealth Government grants and commissioned research; 3) State and Territory grants and commissioned research; and 4): University funded research.

Drawing from this preliminary work the study involved an investigation of the conduct and use of FGD in Aboriginal health service research by three groups of study participants: health service researchers; health policy makers; and Aboriginal health service providers and peak bodies. We used qualitative methods including case studies, in depth interviews and FGDs to explore the perceptions, experiences and reported activities of these diverse groups to generate knowledge that can be applied in research practice. The final stage of the study brought together the three groups of stakeholders and engaged them in a reflexive, participatory process aimed at developing practical and culturally effective guidelines and resources.

Last reviewed: 26 February, 2016

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