Child Participatory Evaluation: Methods to Facilitate Focus Group Discussions with Children

Most of the projects we are working with ultimately aim to benefit children.  Getting the perspectives and opinions of the primary beneficiaries is key but -- facilitating effective and insightful discussions with children can be much more difficult than interviewing adults.  Here are a few strategies I recently found useful while facilitating child Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) in Nepal.

1.       Keep the group small.

I’ve had the best conversations with group sizes of 6 to 8.  Depending upon the topic and context, you may want to have only girls, only boys, or a mix.  A few years ago, I was evaluating an education project that had a menstrual hygiene component in Uganda, so I organized a girls FGD and boys FGD.  Be sure the girls’ group is facilitated by women, for obvious reasons.  In Nepal, the project targeted the entire basic school, so I organized a group of 6 students, 3 boys and 3 girls, with representation from each of the top 3 grades.  Tip: it’s interesting to observe how the boys and girls interact throughout the FGD – sometimes it even gives insights into gender dynamics.   

2.       Embrace the power of a good icebreaker or introductory activity.

ConnectEd activity warms up the group.

ConnectEd activity warms up the group.

While there’s always a child that jumps right in and feels instantly comfortable, most kids will feel shy and intimidated.  As the facilitator, it’s your job to make them feel comfortable.  Firstly, help them understand why they are taking part in the activity and what you plan to do with the information they provide.  After getting their consent to take part in the research activity, an icebreaker can help ease any nerves.

We brought a ball of string for the ConnectEd game.  The children and facilitators stood in a circle.  The person holding the ball of string introduced her/himself and then stated what career s/he wants.  Then, holding on to the string, the ball is tossed across the circle to Participant 2.  Participant 2 then answers the same question.  The ball continues thru the circle until all participants have introduced themselves. 

Not only is this fun for the kids and helps them feel more comfortable, it’s a good way to get a sense of their hopes and aspirations.  I’ve been in communities where every child describes wanting to be in the military.  In others, children dream of being artists or comedians. 

3.       Carry out an individual reflection activity.

An example of the individual reflection activity.

An example of the individual reflection activity.

Children benefit from some personal time to reflect on their experiences.  I’ve previously posted about the H-Method.  We did a similar (but different) activity in Nepal where students were given a large sheet of paper (with 4 boxes in a grid format) and colored pencils.  They were then given 20 minutes to draw or write in response to the four questions (1 for each box):

·       What do you like about your classroom?

·       What don’t you like about your classroom?

·       What do you like about your broader school environment?

·       What don’t you like about your broader school environment?

4.       Have each participant present his/her work.

Have each participant present her/his drawing from Step 3.  This can be a great way to ensure that all participants have a voice in the group, and it can spark some great dialogue among participants.  Be sure to prompt for more feedback: Do you all agree?  How many of you had a similar idea on your paper?    

5.       Finish with a facilitated group discussion.

After everyone has presented their individual reflections, spend 15 minutes facilitating a group discussion.  Prepare ahead of time with some questions.  Here are a few questions we recently used to guide discussions:

·       If you were running the school, what would you change?

·       Since you’re not running the school, is there any way you could make these changes still happen?  What would it take?

·       Do you participate actively in your classroom?  Describe your participation.

·       Do all children participate actively in your classroom?   Probe: why?

·       Do you have any friends that don’t attend school?  If yes, why don’t they? 

·       Is there anything that you would like to learn but are not being taught in school?