Interviews and focus groups

In research, interviews and focus groups are used to explore the views, experiences and beliefs of participants on specific matters. Qualitative methods such as interviews can often provide a more in depth understanding than would be obtained from purely quantitative methods, such as questionnaires. Individual interviews are appropriate for exploring sensitive topics, where participants may not want to talk about such issues in a group environment.

In order for the HREC to be able to make an assessment of the merit and risk of the proposed interviews, please provide a list of interview/focus group questions. For semi-structured interviews and focus groups please provide a list of topics/sample questions. For unstructured interviews please provide an overview of the themes.

If draft questions are submitted (usually this is in circumstances where the initial phases of the research will inform the development of the interview questions), the HREC may request a final version be submitted and approved before being administered.

Other issues which should be considered when conducting interviews and focus groups include:

  • How will participants be identified and the sample size determined?
  • How will participants be recruited?
  • How will consent be obtained?
  • Participants are entitled to withdraw from interviews or focus groups at any time (National Statement 2.2.20). Are there any consequences for participants and researchers?
  • Will the interview or focus group be recorded by audio or film recording, or by field notes? If conducting interviews via telephone or video-conference, you will need to comply with the relevant legislation regarding the recording of telephone conversations. telephone interviews
  • For individual interviews, recordings are normally destroyed if a participant withdraws from the research, unless the participant specifically consents to the researcher retaining their data. For focus groups and group interviews participants must be made aware that due to the group nature of the recording they will not be able to withdraw material once the session has commenced. Have you included this information in the Participant Information Statement?
  • How much time do you expect the interviews or focus groups will take? Where will they be held? Will any support be provided for participants to attend (i.e. reimbursement for travel)?
  • How will any participant distress be managed, eg by referring participants to appropriate and accessible counselling services?
  • Will participants need to be fully informed and forewarned of the limits to confidentiality concerning data they provide (for example if questions may reveal illegal behaviour or be subject to mandatory reporting requirements)?
  • Will a translator be required?
  • Will participants be identifiable in study publications? If you intend to identify participants (or their organisations), this should be clearly stated and consent obtained by way of a tick box in the Participant Consent Form. Sometimes participants are inadvertently identifiable e.g. a person who has a very rare disease or condition or a person with a public profile. In these cases it should be noted in the Participant Information Statement that it may not be possible to guarantee anonymity.
  • Will data be kept in perpetuity and where will it be held (this may be appropriate in some circumstances, such as with oral histories)? Specific consent should be obtained for this.
  • In some cultural contexts/with certain participants oral consent may be more appropriate (National Statement 2.2.5). Further guidance on this topic is available here: oral consent
  • If you require your public documents to be translated into languages other than English, you will need to provide certified copies once the HREC has approved the English language versions. More information is available here: translations
  • If a transcription service will be used you may need to consider a confidentiality agreement with the provider of these services.

When preparing the Participant Information Statement (PIS) and Participant Consent Form (PCF) please consider the above points and include information as necessary:

Participant Information Statement and Consent form templates