A fruitful dialogue between diverse VET providers and the labour market is often underpinned by focused problem-solving and the need for a solution driven approach to ‘market failure’. Hence, the need for formation of focus groups. The main purpose of a focus group is to draw upon attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions. Therefore, this group approach to research allows for face-to-face discussions with a range of people who can bring different perspectives.
Planning is a crucial, but sometimes people quickly skip over it. People often begin focus group planning by drafting questions. However, it is widely suggested that it is better to back up, think about the purpose and ask some fundamental questions. Basically, clarify the problem before asking anyone for their opinion. So, first determine the purpose e.g. the outcomes of research or results of Occupational Mapping. Then, to reach a clear and common view on the findings. This with a view to open discussions on how to interpret the findings. Further, the consequences these findings have. This allows for an informed approach to planning. Successful planning requires that we commit thoughts to paper and invite others to provide feedback. It forces us to go beyond our own thinking and seek the insights of colleagues.
Another part of planning is deciding upon what types of people could give the information that is needed. Importantly, consider what characteristics people should have e.g. who are the ”information rich” individuals. Basically, the following question should be asked “Who has the greatest amount of insight on this topic and from different perspectives?”
In the QSE-VET project, when we refer to ‘evidence-based VET’ we are referring specifically to questions such as:
- How to assure sufficient work-placements and employment for VET graduates?
- How to assure sufficient supply of (future) VET graduates to meet the numbers required?
- How do you know that the skills being provided (e.g. by a particular VET provider or programme) are relevant to the skills demanded by employers?
- Where does the evidence come from for this purpose?
- How is the evidence obtained?
- How is the evidence used?
With the above in mind, the approach taken by the QSE-VET partners could provide (you and your stakeholders) food for thought. Initial questionnaires and surveys undertaken with both companies and students provided the basis for more focused discussions. See the tools and results below:
- 1.Quality Standards for Evidence-based VET_Italy
- 2.Narrowing the Gap_Sweden
- 3.Student Self-Assessment
- 4.Assessment Results_Sweden
Planning a focus group
Essentially, the focus group provides an opportunity to present the findings of research undertaken e.g. a combination of desk research and interview results. QSE-VET participants included those representing VET institutions, employers, government/policy makers, and trade unions, to capture different perspectives.
- The Team: conducting a focus group requires a small team, comprised of a Researcher, Moderator, and Note Taker.
- Basic Ethics: ethical principles include, participant is voluntary, should have all consents/permissions in place, including confidentiality and GDPR.
- Focus Group Topic Guide: prepare a topic guide that provides a list of questions, prepared ahead of the focus group and divided into sub-set categories or themes.
- Provide an Agenda: ideally, sent to participants well ahead of the meeting. The focus group should be no longer than 2-hours and should provide the list of matters to be presented and discussed.
- Location Details and set-up: along with the agenda, provide location details. On site, make sure there is clear signage to direct participants to the focus group. The room should be welcoming and laid out in a way to encourage group discussion.
- Recording the focus group: participants should be notified that the focus group will be recorded (written, audio-video recording) and all consents should be secured.
- Agree ground rules: ahead of the focus group, participants should be sent the basic ground rules that have been established, and these should be presented/discussed before the focus group begins.
- Presentation of Research Findings: essentially, to set the context of the focus group.
- Encourage conversation with prompts: to simulate discussion prompts can be given so that participants can naturally interact with the subject matter.
- Ending the focus group: the discussion should be summarized by highlighting the important things learnt from the focus group. This should include the conclusions, recommendations, actions agreed, etc. There will be need to discuss the need for any further follow-up. Thank the participants and indicate when the minutes/report from the meeting will be distributed.