Guide to interviews and focus groups


An interview is a discussion between an interviewer and a participant. This can occur face to face, or by telephone, usually using a list of questions and prompts.

Interviews may be:

  • Structured, with fixed, but usually open-ended questions
  • Semi-structured, where discussion can be more flexible
  • Think-aloud, where the interviewer prompts the participant to verbalise their thoughts, usually whilst testing a product / website / app

There are advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches. You should choose the type of interview you want to conduct based on what type of data you want to collect. For example, a structured interview is a controlled process in which every interview will consist of the same questions in the same order. This means that participant answers can be directly compared with each other.

In contrast, a semi-structured interview allows for more flexibility in the interview schedule as the participant has more of an influence over the direction of the conversation. This may be useful for exploring participant reactions that may not have been directly asked.

Focus groups

A focus group usually consists of 6 -10 people, who participate in an organised, guided discussion, led by a facilitator, with the purpose of gaining their views and experiences of a particular topic or activity.

Focus groups are a good way of collecting the views and opinions of several people at the same time. However, open and honest discussion is only achievable if the participant’s feel safe within the environment to express their views, without fear of judgment.

It is important to be well prepared for your focus group in order to get the most from it. Defining the purpose of the group and devising a list of questions and prompts beforehand will help you to guide the discussion.

The session is usually recorded and transcribed. Qualitative data is produced by drawing on the participant’s attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions demonstrated through the group interaction. Essentially, the aim is to understand people’s perceptions of a particular topic.

The Evaluation and Evidence toolkits go hand in hand. Using and generating evidence to inform decision making is vital to improving services and people’s lives.

About the toolkits