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The Environmental Justice and Sustainability Research Toolbox

Module 5: Interviews and Focus Groups

Key Topics to Engage in Module:

  1. Interviews as a Research Method
  2. Focus Groups as a Research Method
  3. Analyzing Qualitative Data

Guiding Questions:

  1. How do you know when it is best to use interviews and when to use focus groups when conducting qualitative research?
  2. What do you need to know about yourself, your participants (interviewees), and the social context when collecting qualitative data via interview or focus group methods?
  3. What skills do you need to learn and practice to conduct interviews and focus groups as well as to effectively analyze the data from these methods?

Module Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • Identify the main types of interviews and focus groups.
  • Explain and give examples of different types of questions.
  • Develop a protocol for an interview or focus groups.
  • Learn the skills necessary (and some tips) to effectively conduct an interview or focus group.
  • Organize qualitative data analysis.
  • Understand the basics of how to analyze the results of interviews and/or focus groups.

Module Details

I. Overview & Main Concepts:


  • *"Brief Introduction to Interviews and Focus Groups" (Panopto recording, requires SCU log in)
    • Think about: What are the main steps for conducting an interview? Why might you want to use open-ended questions in an interview? What other tips does Professor Bacon offer for interviewing? How do focus groups differ from interviews? What are the roles of the interviewer and/or facilitator for each type of method? How might questions differ depending on the type of interview you conduct? What do you do with all that textual data once it is collected? How do you involve interviewees and focus group participants in all phases of the research process?



II. Designing and Implementing Interviews



  • Think about: What are the 10 (or 12) characteristics of a good interviewer? What were the biggest issues with the first interview? Why was the second interview much better implemented?
  • *Think about: What are the different things you need to prepare before doing a focus group? What are the data you get from a focus group. what is the best way to collect those data? How do you decide how many focus groups to do and who to invite to each group?
III. Analyzing Interview and Focus Group Data


Case Study:


  • Think about: When might you want to use qualitative software vs. coding by hand? What does the concept of "saturation" refer to, and how does coding help us to determine if we've reached that? Why is it important to take detailed notes about your coding process?
Additional Resources:




  • Think about: Why conduct virtual focus groups? How doe virtual focus groups differ from in-person focus groups? What organizational tips does Dr. Cook offer?

Ideas for In-class Activities & Assignments

In-Class Activity:

  • Activity 1: Students select into small teams (2-3 students) based on their interest in a specific topic. The students work together to develop an interview guide with questions. The students then conduct mock interviews and role-playing in class after they've developed their interview protocol. 
  • Activity 2: Instructor provides a set of interview questions and then students pair off and take turns interviewing each other.
  • Activity 3: "Fishbowl focus group" with 6-8 students sitting in the middle of the classroom with the rest of the students surrounding the fishbowl group. Get two volunteers facilitate the group. Try out the techniques for implementing an effective focus group. Have students comment about what worked well and what they would want to do before facilitating their own focus group.


  • Assignment 1: Each student in the course interviews at least two other students using the same interview guide and uploads the transcriptions to a shared folder for analysis.
  • Assignment 2: Analysis assignment that includes a link to qualitative data (open-ended survey responses or interview transcripts) and practice coding. This could be done using one of the case studies above.