After having been involved in some focus groups from both sides of the discussion, I thought I'd pass along my 2 cents about how to address one of the biggest challenges in putting such a group together, namely, recruitment.
I love working with undergrads, but it can be like herding cats to get even the most motivated into a single room at a certain time. I was really proud of the last focus group I put together about undergraduate research because we had just the right number of people (5) and they were all very engaged in the conversation. Here are some things I learned that might help you too:
- Recruit about double the amount of people you want and expect that half won't show up. I was nervous about doing this the first time, but at least with undergrads the rule seems to hold true.
- Give incentives. Snacks and refreshments are a must, but you should also offer something extra. We gave students $10 on their ID cards, which they seemed to like. I didn't want to offer "serious" cash since, not only would it cost more, but I also wanted to talk with people who weren't solely motivated by money. A colleague of mine told me about how she offered a very active library contingent the opportunity to select a book for the library. That was a HUGE incentive for those die-hard library fans! Ultimately, the incentive depends on the patrons in question.
- Don't spam prospects. (This one was key for me). Since a focus group is by nature focused, your recruitment strategy should be too. With my group, the topic was undergraduate research, so I asked my contacts in the Honors Department to help provide names of people who are doing research and might be interested, and also to send out some targeted e-mails on my behalf. In addition, we have an opt-in mailing list where I sent a request. The patrons on the list self-identify as being more engaged with the library than average, so the odds were good I'd find some people who were eager to share their ideas about research (and I did!). By doing these things, the focus group comes across as relevant and worthwhile to participants, and not just another piece of spam. I concede that this may leave room for a biased sample, but in my case I specifically wanted researchers rather than non-researchers and undergraduates rather than non-undergraduates, so I figured that being selective (applying purposive sampling) in this way was alright. I actually ended up with a wide range of research experience just by chance, which was very helpful.
- Send reminders. What can I say? People need reminding. However, I wouldn't send too many - maybe one a week out and another the day before. I kept a spreadsheet of who planned on coming, who canceled, who wasn't sure, etc. I also made sure that I told people up-front what to expect and answered any questions they had.