“From Start to Finish”: Practical and Ethical Considerations in the Use of Focus Groups to Evaluate Sexual Health Service Interventions for Young People

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Focus groups have become an important method in qualitative psychological research and are also used widely in evaluation studies. However, there has been a surprising lack of attention in the literature in terms of exploring the entire process of conducting focus groups with young people on potentially psychologically sensitive issues such as sexual health. This article draws on our experiences of using focus groups during a specific piece of qualitative research that involved 3 discrete but interrelated evaluations of sexual health services for young people in the South of England. We focus particularly on the process of using focus groups as an important and useful empirical method to generate primary qualitative data. In doing so, we consider a number of both practical and ethical considerations when planning, facilitating, and following up focus groups with young people that aim to investigate psychologically sensitive issues, in this case, sexual health. As a result, we propose a heuristic framework for conducting focus groups “from start to finish” including preparing focus groups, facilitating focus groups, and following up participants, that offers a contribution to the advancement of qualitative inquiry in psychology. Key recommendations are elicited both for the teaching of qualitative psychological research methods and for the training of qualitative researchers interested in psychological phenomena.

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