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Further Questions to Ask: Focus Groups

Further Questions to Ask: Focus Groups

The SAIS Value Narrative Survey is a quantitative measure of the culture of the school and the current climate. By design, the survey does not ask for respondents to explain their ratings nor does it give respondents an opportunity to express anything they might be thinking about that they want to let the school know in an anonymous fashion: this is both a strength of the survey technique and a drawback.The strength is that the survey very accurately measures central tendencies and helps you understand at both a macro level and at a disaggregated level what stakeholders believe in and how they think the school is doing while avoiding "loud" data. However, it is fitting and appropriate to invite stakeholders to help interpret data and help you understand the information at a deeper level. SAIS suggests that a qualitative study be employed by the school as a way of following up.  

Using the school's survey data, you can present the top 10 and/or bottom 10 items from any of the categories to a specific stakeholder group and ask them if anything surprises them on the list. This should generate a conversation around the central ideas that emerged from the survey. Another question is to consider the congruency (or lack of congruency) especially with items that are more mission driven than others. Again, this should spur conversation. These are just two of the possible avenues to take when gathering together individuals to have a discussion, i.e. convening a focus group.

Focus groups tend to yield data that can be more fully fleshed out than a survey.  While it may be preferable to use professional and highly trained facilitators to lead focus groups (such as tend to be available in education consultancies or colleges and universities), it is not always possible or practical.  

There are many ways to select who will be in your focus group and some are statistically more reliable than others, although many are also valid. You may create selection criteria to include characteristics that you are most interested in seeing in your focus group. You may choose to select stakeholders completely at random to serve as your sample group. A technique to eliminate some of the bias is to create multiple groups that will meet simultaneously, but with separate facilitators. For example, you could choose between 50-100 individuals and invite them in for an evening. Break them into smaller groups (about 6-10 per group tends to work well). Have a facilitator with each group ask a series of questions and take notes (note that the qualifications for serving as a “facilitator” in this context are to be able to stick to a script of questions, listen well, and take good notes). Debrief with all of the facilitators at the end and note the frequency of responses received from each of the table groups.

Your questions should use the survey data as a springboard to deeper understanding of your stakeholder communities beliefs and views towards the school. You can repeat this process a few times per year if you have a large enough stakeholder population. Some schools build up the idea being randomly selected to participate in the focus group (good food helps build on the idea of the importance of the meeting!) and they don’t announce what the topic of conversation will be beforehand so that they get the participants’ opinions rather than their friend’s opinions.

However you go about this, make sure that you take time to thank the participants and report high level results back to the entire community quickly. Hopefully, you will see that your stakeholders are engaged in sharing their opinions in a very constructive manner and the information you are gathering is an accurate and deep reflection of the opinions and thoughts of the school.  

A note on sample in the benchmarks. The sample group used were respondents who took the survey from Spring 2013 - Fall 2014. This group contains 33,341 unique responses from the following stakeholder groups: Parents (15,063), Students (7,957), Faculty (3,200), Trustees (619), Alumni (6,502). There is a high degree of confidence that this sample group is representative of of the independent school community.

Understanding your Data

(Click the title for more details) 

The Net Promoter Score: Description of what the NPS is, the current means of stakeholders, discussion of appropriate uses

Top 10 and Bottom 10: A consideration of the upper and lower thirds of indicators across stakeholders

Measures of Congruency: Congruency is the match between expectations and perceived reality

Further Questions to Ask: Techniques on Focus groups

Benchmark Reports: Full reports available by stakeholder group according to various benchmarks


When you are ready to give the survey, click on the left to get started, SAIS will need to collect information and payment from you. The information is listed on the form after you click to get started. Click here for a document to use to help you fill out the form once you click the icon to the left.  The document contains further definitions and instructions.


PLEASE feel free to contact us with any questions at any time.  We even like suggestions about new surveys to develop.


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