Focus groups from home: Conducting virtual focus groups during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

Brendan Johnson, Katie Odhner


In spring 2020, two librarians at Penn State-Abington transitioned a series of planned focus groups online after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person sessions. Despite the added challenges of coordinating online groups, we found that the virtual format was effective and offered advantages over in-person groups. Online focus groups eliminate the need for moderators to coordinate the logistics of reserving rooms, ordering food, and purchasing and setting up external recording equipment. Studies show that subjects experience lower “participation burden” for online groups. Virtual groups also enable researchers to reach and attract populations that are geographically dispersed, less mobile, and more demographically diverse. In this article we will discuss our experience conducting virtual focus groups, best practices for conducting online focus groups, and information we learned that will help improve our spaces and services.

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Copyright Brendan Johnson, Katie Odhner

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