Using Focus Groups to Research Sensitive Issues: Insights from Group Interviews on Nursing in the Northern Ireland “Troubles”

Joanne Jordan, Una Lynch, Marianne Moutray, Marie-Therese O’Hagan, Jean Orr, Sandra Peake, John Power


In this article the authors discuss the usefulness of focus groups for researching sensitive issues using evidence from a study examining the experiences of nurses providing care in the context of the Northern Ireland Troubles. They conducted three group interviews with nurses during which they asked about the issues the nurses face(d) in providing nursing care amid enduring social division. Through a discursive analysis of within-group interaction, they demonstrate how participants employ a range of interpretive resources, the effect of which is to prioritize particular knowledge concerning the nature of nursing care. The identification of such patterned activity highlights the ethnographic value of focus groups to reveal social conventions guiding the production of accounts but also suggests that accounts cannot be divorced from the circumstances of their production. Consequently, the authors argue that focus groups should be considered most useful for illuminating locally sanctioned ways of talking about sensitive issues.

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