The Equity Focus Group protocol helps facilitate open-ended conversations between diverse stakeholders exploring equity within the context of their school.


Selecting participants for the focus group

  • Select participants for your focus group who will provide meaningful insight into the area of your equity challenge that you are trying to explore.
  • If you want input from both adults and students, hold separate focus groups for each group. The purpose of this separation is to avoid introducing adult/child power dynamics that may hinder participants from responding fully or truthfully to the questions.
  • When recruiting participants, make it clear that participation is voluntary.

Creating questions for the focus group

  • Create a small number of questions (no more than 10) that you want to ask in the focus group. For broader questions, if you anticipate there being more specific topics you want to explore, including probing questions to get more specific responses
  • The ordering of your questions matter. In the beginning, start with an icebreaker type of question to get participants acclimated to sharing out to the group. Do not start with hard-hitting questions, for participants may be more hesitant to answer sensitive questions before becoming more familiar with the group. Conclude with wrap up questions that bring the discussion back to the big ideas. These questions can be summative in nature and ask about next steps moving forward. Chunk your questions into topic areas. A general structure for your protocol should be:
    • Introduction/Ice Breaker questions
      • (Questions)
    • Focus Area 1
      • Questions 1.1
        • Probing question
      • Questions 1.2
    • Focus Area 2
      • Question 2.1
      • Question 2.2
        • Probing question
    • Focus Area 3
      • Question 3.1
      • Question 3.2
    • Wrap up
      • “Of all the things we talked about, what is most important to you?"
      • “This is the last question that I have…”
      • “Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
    • Do not ask yes/no or closed-ended questions.
    • When coming up with your questions, remember that language matters. Use language that is appropriate for your audience, especially if you a conducting a focus group with students. Avoid using language that could be potentially offensive to your target audience.
    • Before conducting your focus group, test your questions on members of your target group. This can help you refine your questions or reword them to tap into the areas you want to focus on in the course of the discussion.

Conducting the focus group

  • There should be at least two people from your team conducting the focus group. One person should take the role of the facilitator while the other should take the role of notetaker. It should be noted that the person designated to be the notetaker can still participate in the group discussion and help facilitate.
  • Before asking any questions, start with a preface to the focus group. This preface should include:
    • The purpose of the focus group Establish confidentiality (“What happens in this room stays in this room”)
    • Let participants know that they can respond to each other as well as to the questions asked by the facilitator
    • Let participants know that they can disagree with one another (“You may have a different opinion from someone else in this group. If so, please speak up.”)
    • Establish rules of respect (Disagreeing respectfully, not personally attacking one another, allowing all members of the group to speak, etc)
  • As the facilitator, be aware of who is talking and who is not. If a participant is dominating the conversation, then avoid making eye contact with them. Instead, make eye contact with those who haven’t spoken who you want to hear from. For those who have not spoken as much, give them opportunities to speak (“Is there anything you want to add?”), but also give participants to pass on answering a question if they do not want to answer.

Reflecting on the focus group

  • After transcribing and reviewing the notes from the focus group, debrief the findings with your team:
    • What are common themes that came up in the focus group?
    • What can you learn from what was said in the focus group? From what wasn’t said?
    • How can you incorporate ideas from the focus group into your equity work?

Time Required

2.5 hours

Required Materials

  • Pen
  • Paper
  • Recording device
  • Space to conduct the focus group
  • Optional: food (if providing food, serve it afterwards to reduce the amount of background noise in the recording)

Preconditions for Success

  • Identify an area you want to hone in with the focus group. When selecting your participants, make sure that these participants represent a wide range of roles, perspectives, & social identities and add relevant perspective to your equity challenge.
  • Secure consent from participants.
  • As a facilitator, be sure to pay attention to equity of voice. Who’s talking? Who isn’t? What can you do to ensure that everyone is heard? Question prompts like, “Does anybody have a different perspective?” can be helpful for bringing in a range of voices.
  • Be mindful of both who is in your focus group and who is moderating/facilitating it. Participants of the focus group do not necessarily need to know one another, but as the facilitator, you should try to create an environment in which people feel that it is safe to share their thoughts and opinions to not only the other participants but also the facilitator. This could mean considering having someone facilitate who is not part of the organization.
  • Do not argue with participants. You are here to ask questions and to listen for understanding.
  • The purpose of a focus group is to create conversation around a set of ideas. This means that not every participant needs to answer every question.
  • Each focus group will be different, so be flexible. Do your best tojumpstart a conversation or steer it to include diverse opinions and stay grounded in the topic.

Connection to Equity

As a developmental experience, this activity allows your team to take stakeholder (student, teacher, parent, school staff) perspectives and use it as a tool to better understand your equity challenge, to test your assumptions, and as an impetus to create initial change ideas.