Checklist for Focus Group Facilitators

Are you facilitating a focus group? If so, you’ve probably got a lot on your mind – greeting participants, making sure everyone feels comfortable, covering all the key questions… It’s a lot to remember!

As I was learning to facilitate focus groups, I started taking notes of all the good advice I received from experienced facilitators. I turned that advice into a checklist for myself. I  review my checklist before every focus group (to keep the advice fresh on my mind) and after every focus group (as a self-evaluation). You could also use this checklist to assess colleagues who are learning to facilitate focus groups (i.e., use the checklist as a conversation starter when you’re debriefing together after the focus group).

Here’s my checklist for focus group facilitators. Did the facilitator:

  • Introduce him or herself?
  • Explain the purpose of the focus group?
  • Explain the rules for the discussion?
  • Address issues of confidentiality?
  • Use verbal and non-verbal expressions to make participants feel comfortable during the focus group?
  • Facilitate real interaction among group members (not just a series of individual interviews)?
  • Draw everyone into the discussion?
  • Demonstrate genuine interest in the discussion?
  • If asked for their personal opinion on a topic during the group, deflect requests by participants to give an opinion?
  • Maintain a good pace during the discussion (kept things moving but don’t rush questions)?
  • Ask questions in a neutral way (not in a leading way)?
  • Link comments to previous comments or themes?
  • Address comments or behaviors that could take the discussion off course?
  • Address disruptive and disrespectful behavior?
  • Ask participants for validation if rewording or summarizing comments?
  • Courteously but firmly stop a chatty participant?
  • Demonstrate sensitivity to emotional reactions of participants?
  • Display awareness and respect for cultural issues that emerge in the discussion?
  • Re-explain or re-phrase questions as needed?
  • Sincerely thank participants for contributing?

Do you have additional tips to add to the checklist? Which tips have been most valuable to you when facilitating a focus group?

P.S. For more focus group resources, check out these posts.

9 thoughts on “Checklist for Focus Group Facilitators

  1. kgilds

    Great checklist! It also helpful to share your contact information with everybody for many reasons. There may be instances where someone does not want to push back or make waves with the group and for follow up. By follow up, I mean what changes occurred, if any, because of the feedback. A group I worked with last summer was very skeptical that their feedback would actually change anything! Thus, it was critical to report back to the group the results of their feedback.

    1. Ann K. Emery Post author


      I agree, providing contact information is helpful for the exact reasons you noted. I’ve seen some facilitators write their contact information on a white board, share handouts, or even pass out business cards. Great addition to the checklist!


  2. Siobhan

    These look right on target! My only other best practice is to always start with an ice-breaker to get everyone comfortable speaking in front of each other and for the recorder. I usually ask participants to say something fun about themselves, which usually generates at least a couple laughs.

  3. Jessica Weitzel

    Thanks for sharing this, Ann! We have discussions about this topic, do simulations, etc., but this list really captures the core skills in a way that I can use to help employees new to this (and remind myself what I need to be aware of when I do focus groups).

    1. Ann K. Emery Post author

      Jessica, I’m glad the list is helpful. I wonder if you could adapt the list into a rubric… Perhaps you could score colleagues during their simulations, maybe they’d earn 0-5 points per checklist item based on how well they applied that facilitation skill… Let me know if you ever do something like this, I’d be curious to hear how it went.

  4. Sheila B Robinson, Ed. D

    This is a great list and very helpful. What I would love to see are some ideas and examples of potential wording for some of the more challenging points, such as: Ask questions in a neutral way (not in a leading way)? Address comments or behaviors that could take the discussion off course? Address disruptive and disrespectful behavior? Courteously but firmly stop a chatty participant?
    These may sound easy but in practice, I think these in particular are some of the more challenging circumstances we face.

  5. Leah Roman

    Ann- great list! I’m bookmarking for my next qualitative project! Having just wrapped one project up, I would add: “Did the facilitator (or co-facilitator) execute a plan to document field notes during the focus group?” These notes can be incredibly important for capturing things that the recording may not (e.g., non-verbal cues from participants; questions that were confusing and may need to be re-worded; logistics successes/failures; etc). The notes from my co-facilitator and our debriefs during my spring project were very valuable (especially when we discovered that our audio was not as clear as we would have liked!)

    Sheila, re: your comment on wording questions: one of my favorite resources is the manual “Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research”. Krueger & Casey (4th edition). 2009. It is a wonderful step-by-step guide and offers a whole chapter each on (1) developing a questioning route and (2) moderating skills.

  6. Nicole Clark, MSW (@MsNicoleClark)

    Thanks for this great list, Ann! Your blog is very informative overall. A question I would add is if the facilitator collaborated well with her/his co-facilitator (made good us of time, debriefed, define roles before, during, and after the group, etc.) Thanks again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s