Clinical Perspective

Qualitative adolescent health research — focus groups: a rural South African example

  • H E Onya Health Promotion Unit, School of Health Sciences, University of the North, Private Bag X1106, Sovenga 0727, South Africa
  • A J Flisher Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Groote Schuur Hospital, Observatory 7925, South Africa
Keywords: adolescent, health, research


This paper introduces nine steps that are recommended in conducting focus group discussions in rural communities and gives an example of how they can appropriately and fruitfully be employed in adolescent health behavioural research. The paper also reviewed issues related to methods of data collection, data analysis, reliability and validity in qualitative research.
Focus group discussions took place in classrooms in three schools in Mankweng, Limpopo Province of South Africa. Three groups (boys only, girls only and mixed) took part in each school. Participants were selected from the pool of standard seven (grade 9) students from the chosen schools. The nine steps that were involved in using focus group discussions as a research method and the Mankweng experience is discussed. These steps include: (1) conducting a social influence analysis; (2) identifying the specific information to collect; (3) designing focus group discussion guide; (4) choosing the participants for the focus group discussion; (5) selecting focus group discussion moderators; (6) training focus group discussion moderators; (7) conducting the focus group discussion; (8) analysing the data collected; (9) formulating study conclusions and policy recommendations.
Little adolescent health research in South Africa has been based upon methods that can capture the complexity of the role of significant others in adolescent health and development and the powerlessness of rural communities in dealing with the ‘new morbidity\' of adolescent risk behaviours. Understanding what sort of power relations, for example, that are involved in being relatively disadvantaged and how the power of such social groups can be increased is common concern of development managers and other individuals and institutions engaged in policy changes and implementation and deserve to be an essential component of child and adolescent health research.
Well-collected and well-analysed qualitative data is needed in order to clearly understand some of the underlying predisposing, enabling and reinforcing factors that could account for adolescent risk behaviours in rural communities. Qualitative research method is important in that they capture the complexity of life, rather than trying to ‘reduce\' this complexity, and the potential for gaining an understanding of what is going on in the situation with the phenomenon is greater. Focus group discussions, a qualitative research methodology, can yield valuable data.

Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health 2004, 16(2): 117–125

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1728-0591
print ISSN: 1728-0583