Stories Of Change

Focus groups in Shifting Power

Kate Carroll

Research advisor in the global secretariat, based from London. See profile

Focus groups in Shifting Power

Shifting Power is a piece of research based on focus group discussions and interviews in communities in seven developing and emerging economy countries where ActionAid is active: Brazil, Haiti, Liberia, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. Groups of women were asked how they experience inequality and, most importantly, how they are addressing inequality. We found that across the countries, when women take collective action on the many challenges facing them, they feel better equipped to address inequalities within their families and communities. This process is often accelerated for women whose first meetings are around income generating activities, and we have identified that women who are economically autonomous tend to be more involved in organising. The focus groups were of women only, as these were the key perspectives we wished to guage and we were unwilling to replicate the power dynamics between men and women as the result of patriarchy.

To ensure effective participation, it was important to find a good facilitator who could ensure there was room for dialogue and communication within the focus groups and to make sure everyone was at ease. This meant leaving at least three hours for each focus group, since it takes at least one hour for the group to get comfortable and begin to get to the heart of and share the issue in question. We used participatory methodologies within the focus group to help participants jointly and creatively reflect on the issues we were exploring. We believe this meant the knowledge that emerged was richer. We were also really pleased with the photos and stories of inspirational women that emerged from the focus groups. These were particularly strong in Haiti, where the project manager brought in a professional photographer and videographer. It meant that the knowledge that emerged from Haiti was used widely, including at UNGA.


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