In the Empowerment Through Culturally Responsive Focus Groups podcast, Dr. Jori Hall, Associate Professor at the University of Georgia in the Department of Lifelong Education Administration and Policy, discusses how culturally responsive focus groups can be sites for social justice.
Planning The Focus Group
Dr. Hall begins the podcast by describing focus groups and culturally responsive focus groups as a research method. Focus groups are designed to generate information about a specific topic through a group discussion. The researcher needs to focus on the group discussion and on the research question. When adding cultural responsiveness to a focus group, the researcher promotes social justice by considering the culture and context of the participants when implementing and designing the focus group.
A large part of being culturally responsive is really trying to think about the group from a strength-based perspective. That means that the participant’s culture, even if seen as disadvantaged, is considered an asset and not a deficit. Lastly, cultural responsiveness requires the researcher to continuously question their own assumptions and actions throughout the inquiry process.
In being culturally responsive, the researcher needs to think, “Who are my participants? Are they children with a disorder? Are they older? Researchers need to consider how they organize the focus group and the duration of it to best accommodate for the needs of the participants. The researcher might want to schedule a break and have folks come back. The best length for a focus group tends to be an hour. They are usually shorter than individual interviews, because the researcher asks fewer questions and obtains responses from multiple participants.
Four Ways Focus Groups Serve As Sites For Social Justice
Dr. Hall was clear in stating that focus groups are not automatically sites for social justice. In order for focus groups to be sites for social justice, different things need to happen.
First, researchers or evaluators, need to create opportunities for participants to make decisions about things and tell their story. The researcher needs to humbly accept that participants are the experts of their experience and their community. If there is an issue being explored, receiving feedback from them about how they think that these issues can be addressed is hugely important.
Second, focus groups can be sites for social justice by disrupting stereotypes about marginalized groups. Third, focus groups can allow people an opportunity to share their stories that don't normally get a chance to share. Children who sometimes get ignored in research, for example.
Fourth, focus groups can create a community among strangers. During focus groups, participants may say they learned something from each other and realize they have a shared experience based on the discussion with the group.
Gaps In The Literature On Culturally Responsive Focus Groups
Dr. Hall says more empirical evidence is needed to understand how focus groups are advancing social justice, how they're being used for empowerment purposes or advancing self-determination. There's room to bring more attention to nonverbal communication, especially for certain cultures and marginalized populations. Relying on the verbal communication is Western in many ways, and researchers could be missing factors from cultures who rely on other kinds of communication. We could be missing huge cultural insights.
Culturally responsive focus groups adapt to meet the unique characteristics of various cultures. They give voice to marginalized or often overlooked populations, and empower participants to shape the discourse and tell their stories. In doing so, they serve as models of social justice.