Query: Recruiting participants for focus groups - lessons learned


Migration Aware is a JMDI-funded project based in Ibadan, Nigeria jointly facilitated by the locally-based Childolescent and Family Survival Organisation (CAFSO) and the African Studies Centre at Coventry University in the United Kingdom. The focus of the project is to fill the information gap frequently encountered by potential migrants considering taking the land and sea route to Europe without formal documentation.

The project relies on a reservoir of engaged and committed participants. Our own experiences underline the importance of getting the recruitment of participants right for focus groups that will set the agenda of the programme. It was decided to invite people to introductory meetings and from there to recruit suitable volunteers to participate in the focus groups. Online invitations were used to recruit potential migrants using popular websites; 20,000 hand bills; and 1,000 posters distributed to churches, mosques, higher education institutions, the General Post Office Headquarters, and the State Library. Advertisements were also placed on two FM radio stations: one in the University of Ibadan, called Diamond FM, and the other based in the city, Premier FM. This certainly attracted a crowd of potential migrants.

However, two significant factors were overlooked – the place and the time of the meeting. In our search for a suitable hall big enough to house the expected numbers, we chose a lecture theatre at Ibadan University. Then, due to unforeseen circumstances, including a university strike, the meeting was put back to a Friday afternoon. The upshot was that first, we mainly recruited students, rather than a cross section of the city’s youth. Secondly, the delay to the meeting meant that Friday prayers removed a lot of potential Muslim youth. In other words, although we had a profitable meeting and recruited participants for some valuable focus groups, the sample was biased.

To rectify this we held a further general public meeting in a non-student area of the city and ensured that not only was it not on a Friday, but that we recruited Muslim students to balance the non-Muslim students already in the focus groups. The focus groups have informed us where there is an information gap among potential migrants so that we can plan  appropriate training. They are also our way of measuring that our programme has had an impact. If we convene biased focus groups then the whole programme and its evaluation can be skewed. Mistakes will be made in projects; the key is to recognize them and to rectify them. Hopefully we did both in this case.

We would be very interested in learning from other organizations what their strategies have been.  Please share your advice and experiences with us!

The national UK Sickle Cell Society has been very successful in organising focus groups to inform and guide it in its work up to date i.e. information, Counselling and Caring for those with Sickle Cell Disorders and their families.

In 1995, there was a very important focus group discussion between doctors and patients ---- sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, that teased out the needs of this client group to be redressed in order to improve various relevant services for them. These included education programmes on the conditions for health care professionals, the general public and patients and their families and setting the standards of care for sufferers. The vigorous pursuit of these recommendations from the focus group discussions by the Society enabled it to successfully deliver on its aims and objectives. In June 2007, there was another very important breakthrough meeting/focus group discussion between a prominent Member of Parliament, Mr. David Lammy, service users, service deliverers and other stake holders, which led to debates on how to improve services for sickle cell disease and thalassaemia in the UK at both the Houses of Commons and Lords. These debates set out the momentum that moved sickle cell disease and thalassaemia from the margins to the mainstream to become a priority on the UK political agenda.

Having been very involved in most of these processes, as a onetime Chairperson of the Society and community activist, I have noticed the following methods for recruiting participants, very effective.

These methods include: word of mouth, leaflets, bill boards, telephone, emails, text messaging and the use of various media channels such as, the internet and various social media such as facebook, twitter, blogs etc. It is essential to also include an element of lobbying decision makers who will help in the implementation of whatever changes (identified from the focus groups/discussions) you are looking forward to effecting. For instance, we tabled a motion for addressing health inequality and improving health care services for sickle cell and thalassaemia patients at the local political party constituent meeting which was adopted nationally that reinforced the debates on the conditions at the UK Houses of Parliament. Also important is mapping out all possible stakeholders in the subject to involve them in the discussions which do not necessarily need to be physically conducted. It could be done electronically or by telephone conferencing and any other possible methods in this age of technological advancement. All media avenues should be used, including radio, television, relevant newspapers and magazines etc.

The venue of any such meetings should be booked well in advance and paid for bearing in mind the political climate of the place for the meeting. Then all Participants should be informed and given confirmed bookings well in advance before the day. The issue of eliminating bias is one that depends on exactly what you want from the discussion. All possible biases in any scenario should be thought of, with a high index of suspicion and sought to be eliminated by various suitable methods in order to eliminate skewing of the results.

Since the focus of your project is to fill the information gap frequently encountered by potential migrants considering taking the land and sea route to Europe without formal documentation, it would be interesting to learn from the experiences of those who have already done so by organising another focus group discussion here in Europe, preferably with the African Studies Centre at Coventry University in the United Kingdom whom you are collaborating with. I look forward to knowing the results of your project.
With my very best wishes,

By Dr. Jane Wai-Ogosu (SCS & LFSCA)

This may sound controversial, but the best results will be using the same entry points that the migrants use as a mystery user, and also if possible the embassies in Nigeria to recruit those whose visa applications have been rejected.

This is the same process an investigative journalist would use to produce a factual documentary. One example is the documentary done by Sorious Samura an award-winning Sierra Leonean journalist and one of the directors of Insight News TV. He travelled as an illegal immigrant out of Africa, working his way from Morocco into Europe through Spain and France, then finally crossing the English Channel to Britain. See link online here: http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/africa/08/04/samura.story/index.html

- Dr T.A. Banjoko, Africarecruit/Findajobinafrica.com, UK