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Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Rationale for Research
III. Method
IV. Accounts of Behavior
V. Accounts of Feelings
APPENDIX A. - Materials Sent to Participants
APPENDIX B - Questions Asked of Each Group
APPENDIX D - Group Instructions and Guidelines
APPENDIX E - Chart - First-hand Accounts of Racial and Ethnic Activity
APPENDIX F - Chart - First-hand Accounts of Feelings


A total of three focus groups were conducted. Each group contained seven participants and three facilitators, and each group met on a separate date, though at the same location. The same three facilitators were present for each group, but the participants only attended one group each. The groups were held during August and early September, 1994.

Participants were invited by the facilitators by word of mouth, the only criteria being that they be adult, white, and interested in participating. Participants were told that the purpose was to assemble a focus group of white people to discuss race relations. While in most cases the instructions appeared to have been conveyed, in one instance in the third group a non-white participant attended at the invitation of a second participant who had already been invited. The latter participant had not realized the limitation the researchers wished to impose on racial membership.1

Each participant, once having agreed verbally to participate, was sent a confirmation letter (Appendix A) thanking them in advance for agreeing to attend. The letter contained a reminder of the time and place, along with directions. Also enclosed was a one-page description of the event itself (Appendix A). Some participants had seen this description prior to agreeing to participate, but it was enclosed to assure that each person had a chance to read it. Letters were sent approximately one week before the meeting dates.

Prior to each group the researchers devised a list of questions. The questions differed for each group. The researchers decided to sacrifice consistency, choosing instead to use as wide a range of questions as possible. This decision was made in light of the research being an initial exploratory effort directed more to uncovering ideas, in contrast to a more rigorous testing of more narrowly defined questions.

The questions for each group may be found in Appendix B. In general the researchers decided to reduce the number of questions with each succeeding group. For the original group we prepared twelve questions. For the final group, we only prepared four questions. In part this was a measure of the amount of time it took to move through each question.

Twelve questions were too many for the first group. The facilitators did not want to force the conversation, and so some questions were left unasked. In the last group, four questions were not enough, so the facilitators had to ad lib.

The groups were held in a conference room within a church annex. People seated themselves around a set of tables arranged as a square, with the facilitators sitting around the two sides of one of the corners. Snacks and soft drinks were provided, as were nametags. Upon arrival, participants were asked to fill out a pre-discussion questionnaire (all groups; Appendix C [not available in online version]) and a post-discussion questionnaire (final two groups; Appendix C [not available in online version]). For those groups receiving the post-discussion questionnaire, they were given a copy of the questionnaire at the outset of the group and were told its purpose at that time. It had been the facilitators' experience that it was awkward to introduce the questionnaire at the end of the meeting. But, having already introduced the post-discussion questionnaire at the start of the meeting, it was far less intrusive when ending the meeting to remind people to complete it.

Once participants had assembled and completed the pre-discussion questionnaire, the discussion was initiated by one of the facilitators who delivered a brief introduction that summarized the purpose of the group (Appendix D). A second facilitator then outlined groundrules for the meeting. Finally, the third facilitator asked the participants to introduce themselves, round-robin fashion, and say briefly why they had come.2 The facilitators also re-introduced themselves briefly as part of the round-robin, bringing it back to the third facilitator who originally began the exercise. The third trainer then introduced the first discussion question.

The trainers took a non-interventive stance to the discussion. We tried not to offer comments that would lead the group in one direction or another, though at times we did attempt to bring the group back to the topic or question at hand if they strayed for a period of time. All in all, the discussion, measured in the length and amount of speaking, came largely from the participants. Indications from the post-discussion questionnaire are that the facilitators were successful in remaining in the background.

Though at times there were silent moments, the discussion in all three groups was animated and enthusiastic. Participants covered a wide range of experiences and concerns. It was clear that people were sharing personal feelings and beliefs. There were also elements of defensiveness and avoidance. Resistance, however, was more likely to be reflected by humor and shared laughter than it was in silence and recalcitrance. Strictly from a listener's point of view, the discussion was interesting and inviting. Indeed, it took considerable effort by the facilitators not to join in. Each of us felt the conversation was engaging.

The discussion was recorded with the knowledge and permission of the participants. Due to our inexperience, we failed to record the second half of the first group. Complete recordings were made of the remaining two groups. Recording was begun following the introductions, at the point when the first question was asked. Facilitators also made notes to various degrees, to supplement the audio recordings.

The discussion portion of each group ran for approximately 90 minutes. The facilitators had decided to end each group at the appointed time out of courtesy to participants who might have to leave promptly. However, each group lingered after the official end. Conversations continued among participants, and between participants and the facilitators as people slowly left the premises. It is not hard to imagine that the discussion could have extended to another hour, or even to a second session. Interest was high at the outset, and remained so through the end.

In the days following each group, the facilitators called participants to ask them about how they felt about the experience. Virtually all participants were favorable. Some participants reported that they were still thinking, and in some cases discussing, some of the issues and experiences that had come up in the group discussion. In one or two cases, participants felt the experience had profoundly affected their outlook.

1. This proved to be a fortuitous accident in that it gave the researchers a view into the dynamics of white monoracial groups versus multiracial groups.

2. The participants in the first group all responded that they came because they were invited. In the remaining two groups we modified the question slightly to ask why they were interested in the topic of race relations. In retrospect, even though the first question did not invoke significant material in the responses, it may have been equally or more effective as the ice-breaker it was intended to be.