Sim, J and Waterfield, J (2019) Focus group methodology: some ethical challenges. Quality & Quantity. ISSN 0033-5177

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Focus group methodology generates distinct ethical challenges that do not correspond fully to those raised by one-to-one interviews. This paper explores, in both conceptual and practical terms, three key issues: consent; confdentiality and anonymity; and risk of harm. The principal challenge in obtaining consent lies in giving a clear account of what will take place in the group, owing to unpredictability of the discussion and interaction that will occur. As consent can be seen in terms of creating appropriate expectations in the participant, this may therefore be hard to achieve. Moreover, it is less straightforward for the participant to revoke consent than in one-to-one interviews. Confdentiality and anonymity are potentially problematic because of the researcher’s limited control over what participants may subsequently communicate outside the group. If the group discussion encourages over-disclosure by some participants, this problem becomes more acute. Harm in a focus group may arise from the discussion of sensitive topics, and this may be amplifed by the public nature of the discussion. A balance should be struck between avoiding or closing down potentially distressing discussion and silencing the voices of certain participants to whom such discussion may be important or benefcial. As a means of addressing the above issues, we outline some strategies that can be adopted in the consent process, in a preliminary briefng session, during moderation of the focus group, and in a subsequent debriefng, and suggest that these strategies can be employed synergistically so as to reinforce each other.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s) 2019 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Uncontrolled Keywords: focus groups; ethics; consent; confidentiality; anonymity; harm
Subjects: R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > Primary Care Health Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 23 Jul 2019 12:16
Last Modified: 30 Jul 2019 15:00

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