The Park Studies Unit can conduct focus groups at your park, or in the community outside your park. To request a focus group study at your site, click here.
If you're interested in visitors' opinions of particular services and facilities, and would like to conduct your own evaluative focus group study go to the focus group training program.
What is a focus group?
- A focus group is a structured, small group discussion on a specific topic or area of interest. Focus groups reveal participants' opinions, attitudes, and perceptions on a particular topic. This technique is used extensively by market researchers to learn about consumer attitudes and preferences regarding products, advertisements, services, and so on.
- The purpose of a focus group is to listen to people and gather information -- to find out how people feel or think about an issue, product, service, idea, etc.
- A focus group study is a planned series of focus groups on a particular topic, using the same questions.
- Focus group participants are the individuals who have experienced the issue, activity, product, or service that is being studied, and have been invited to participate in a group discussion.
- A focus group moderator facilitates the focus group. He or she guides the discussion and records it.
With focus groups, you can:
- get a range of ideas or perceptions on a particular issue, product, service, activity, etc.;
- understand differences in perspectives among different groups of people;
- uncover factors that influence opinions, behaviors, and motivations;
- pilot-test ideas, materials, plans, and policies;
- develop or test survey questions for a quantitative study;
- understand the meaings or implications of quantitative data.
How focus groups can help managers:
Connect with different audiences. For example:
- What aspects of the park experience do park visitors find appealing, or unappealing?
- What amenities would make a park visit more satisfying?
- To reach under-served populations and non-visitors and find out why they don't visit the park
Program and product development. For example:
Customer satisfaction and program outcomes. For example:
- What do visitors find interesting about the exhibits under construction?
- What are visitors' interests in topics and themes that could be presented in exhibits, movies, and talks at the interpretive center?
- What should be included in the design of a new park brochure/newspaper/website?
Planning and goal setting. For example:
- What does the public like/dislike about the existing visitor center movie?
- Is the intended message of a particular interpretive service being delivered?
- What are visitors' opinions about the procedures at the entrance gate?What are visitors' opinions of park lodging?
- How do local residents feel about up-coming changes to a particular park policy?
- What do visitors think about the park's transportation system, and how could it be improved?
Focus groups are not used:
- to reach consensus
- to educate people
- to obtain sensitive information that could be harmful to share
- to obtain statistical data that is representative of a larger population
- to gather information that is not intended to be used
Determine if Focus Groups are Appropriate
This decision-making flowchart can help determine if a focus group study is appropriate for your evaluation needs.
Nominal group technique: a decision-making method for use among groups of many sizes, in which all participants' opinions are taken into account.
Observation: a systematic approach to observing subjects unobstrusively, usually in their natural setting.
Evaluation: The systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics, and outcomes of programs to make judgments about the program, improve program effectiveness, and/or inform decisions about future programming.(Patton, 1997)
Audit (in interpretation): an expert's critique of a particular interpretive activity - usually a talk, guided walk, or other program delivered by an individual.
Survey instrument: the tool used to collect data, such as a questionnaire, response card, list of interview questions, etc.