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155 Appendix B Focus Group Methodology Focus groups are among the most widely used research tools in the social sciences, education, marketing, and other fields.1 At the simplest level, a focus group is a more or less structured discussion among selected individuals to examine a particular topic or set of topics.2 The term “focus” implies that the “collective conversation” is geared toward the assessment of a small number of issues. Groups usually involve five to twelve individuals who discuss a particular topic under the direction of a moderator or interviewer. The moderator’s primary responsibility is to facilitate the discussion and ensure that it does not stray from the topic of interest. In doing so, he or she must strike a balance between what is important to members of the group and what is important to the researcher.3 The moderator provides the participants with the agenda or structure of the discussion but is not involved in the conversation. For purpose of this study, I convened four focus groups in Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan; Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan . Groups ranged from six to eight participants and were balanced in terms of gender and age. The International Research and Exchange Board (IREX) assisted in identifying and contacting the alumni of US-funded programs who were invited to participate in the focus groups. Former participants in IREX programs, who had lived and studied in the United States, were thought to be ideal candidates because of their experiences living, studying, and working in both their home countries and the United States. Their extended overseas experiences and direct encounters with foreign cultures informed these individuals’ understanding of differences and similarities in terms of the important concepts and practices associated with democracy. All the focus groups in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were face-to-face meetings; participants came together for a 1.5- to 2-hour discussion in the same location. In Uzbekistan, due to concerns about the participants’ safety, a nominal group technique was used. The partici- 156   Appendix B pants did not meet or interact directly with one another. Each member of the group was interviewed as an individual, and summaries of the main themes, ideas, and responses of each group member were provided to the other members. Focus groups can serve a variety of purposes. They are often used as a starting point for the design of a survey questionnaire and as a means of exploring dimensions of a research topic. Focus groups can also be used for the in-depth analysis and confirmation of conclusions arrived at through a large-scale survey or statistical model. It is for the latter purpose that focus groups were used in this study—to facilitate the interpretation of quantitative results and add depth to the responses obtained through the structured survey. Prior to meeting, all focus group participants were informed of the goal: to discuss both similarities and differences in Western and Central Asian understandings of some common concepts such as democracy, democratization, good governance, the rule of law, and human rights. Each focus group began with a brief introduction of the researcher and the participants and involved a discussion of the following subtopics: • What is democracy? What is democratization? Where do differences in the understanding of these terms originate? • What is the rule of law? Human rights? Good governance? Which terms have better resonance with the people in Central Asia? • Is the Western understanding of democracy suitable for Central Asian countries? • Are there any elements of democratic tradition, broadly defined, in the historical and contemporary sociopolitical orders of the Central Asian states? • What are the obstacles to, as well as factors facilitating, a shared understanding of political institutions and processes associated with democracy? Focus group interviews were conducted in Russian, but the participants were allowed to use English. All focus groups interviews were audiotaped and transcribed by the researcher into English. To analyze the text of transcripts, I used the “cut-and-paste” technique, which involved several steps. The first reading of the text was used to identify those sections relevant to the research topics. Based on this initial reading, a classification Focus Group Methodology  157 system for major topics, issues, and responses was developed. This classification scheme was then used to examine the text in greater detail and identify and code the material for each subtopic. Additional analysis of the content of the transcripts, including all recorded communications—sighs, laughter, etc.—was performed to discern anything that might be meaningful to...


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