top of page

Focus groups

It is good to follow the Listen Include Respect guidelines for meetings when you are planning a focus group.

Focus groups are meetings where you bring a group of people together to share ideas and experiences or give feedback.

There are some extra things to think about when planning a focus group.  

A group of people with their thumbs up


Plan who will attend.


Inclusive consultations and focus groups that bring together people with and without intellectual disabilities should ALWAYS be the aim. 


However, people with intellectual disabilities told us that in some situations separate meetings can work better.

This is because of barriers such as discrimination and inaccessibility that people with intellectual disabilities face. 


A separate focus group can also mean that there is more time and space for people with intellectual disabilities to speak honestly without fear of being excluded.


The best way to know if a separate meeting is needed is to include people with intellectual disabilities in planning the focus groups. 


Think about the knowledge or experience you are looking for in the people who take part in your focus group.  

For example, if you are asking about good inclusive education a group of people who went to special schools may not be able to answer meaningfully.

Bringing together a group of people with intellectual disabilities who may not have the experience you are looking for is setting everyone up to fail and is tokenistic. 


Pay for costs like the connection costs (data) for online meetings or transport for in-person meetings. 

You may also consider paying people for their time and for the knowledge they are bringing to the consultation.


Make sure people understand the context.  


Pre-meetings, webinars or short videos can help to explain the work and why it is important.​​


Check the meeting invitation. 


Make sure it includes: 

  • time and date

  • the goal of the meeting and why it is happening

  • accessible background information

  • venue and transport information

  • meeting link and password if the meeting is online​​

  • which costs will be paid for (e.g. transport, lunch, data, etc.)


Communicate clearly.


Make sure any communication about the event is clear, short and accessible.


Involve support people - check if the people with intellectual disabilities need or want a support person.


People should always get to choose their own supporter.


Support people should receive all the same materials and additional information that the participants receive. Support people should also have all of their costs paid for.


​​​Make sure all questions and tasks are short and easy to understand. 

Some things to remember when planning your questions:​

  • Small group work can help people feel more comfortable and confident.

  • Case studies or stories can help make the topic more understandable and relatable. 

  • Encourage conversation by using open questions. For example; "What do you think about this illustration?" instead of closed questions like "Do you like this illustration?"

  • Multiple questions asked at once can be difficult to answer. Ask one question at a time.


Send an agenda at least two weeks before the meeting.

Make sure all focus group questions and tasks are shared in advance so people can come prepared with examples and organise their thoughts with their support person in advance.


Make sure the agenda includes: ​

  • enough time for discussions

  • enough time for support persons to give any help that may be needed

  • regular breaks

  • small group work and activities to give people space to ask questions and share their ideas in different ways. Activities involving stories, art or role-plays can be helpful.

  • time to speak with other participants


Make sure your facilitator has experience of supporting people with intellectual disabilities. 

A good facilitator will:

  • understand the background of the participants. For example their attitudes or beliefs

  • be interesting and engaging

  • good at listening. For example, they will ask follow up questions to make sure they are clear on what a person's answer means. They will not assume they understand a person's idea or experience  

  • be patient

  • communicate in an accessible way

  • help people feel comfortable and confident

  • make sure everyone has an opportunity to share their ideas

  • be able to change questions or tasks quickly if they are difficult to understand or not working well


If possible, include a facilitator with an intellectual disability.

This makes sure the meeting is inclusive and expert-led.


This may also help participants with intellectual disabilities feel comfortable.


Set the tone ​ by making it clear that everyone taking part will be valued and listened to​. 

Be friendly and welcoming and not too formal. 

Time for an icebreaker at the start of a meeting can help make sure everyone is comfortable. 

Ground rules can help make sure everyone understands how to respect one another. 

Check before you start that: 

  • no one is taking part if they do not want to

  • that everyone knows what will happen to the information they share 

Encourage everyone to participate. Hearing from other people in a meeting may help nervous people to feel more comfortable with sharing their ideas. 


Be aware of common issues.


Be prepared to deal with these: 

  • Often there are one or two people who do a lot of talking, this can lead other people to feel left out or unheard.

  • If people feel like there is a "right" answer they may agree to something they may not believe or understand.

  • Depending on the topic people may share personal or confidential information, make sure there is support available for people if this might be the case.   


At the end of your focus group make sure there is a way to give feedback.


For example through an accessible feedback survey or a feedback session. 

A sheet with tickboxes next to different people
A tickbox next to two groups brought together
A woman with a disability unable to speak in a group, next to a picture of the same woman speaking happily in a pair
An email icon, a letter and a phone
An arrow point from money to a wifi symbol and a bus
A group watching a video together
A meeting invitation next to a question mark above a group of people
A person with an intellectual disability next to his support person
A tickbox next to a survey, with a lightbulb to show it is understood
A confused woman next to a man speaking, a happy woman next to a man sharing examples
A croxx next to a confused woman being asked lots of questions
A tick next to woman being asked one question
An agenda next to a calendar, next to a group of people
A tick next to a clock, above two women having a discussion
Three people doing a craft activity
A tickbox next to a person who is confident about disability
A tick next to an ear listening to a woman talk
A cross next to a confused woman listening to a man say too much at once, a tick next to a happy woman listening to man speaking clearly
A woman with an intellectual disability facilitating a group
A man speaking to a group, with a smily face in a speech bubble
A tick above a short, clear agenda
Four people in a meeting, all saying their ideas
A group with two people talking a lot, while the other two look sad and don't talk
A group of people sharing confidential information
A clock showing the end of a session, next to a feedback survey

Useful resources

An easy read agenda

Example of an Plain Language Agenda

An easy read consent form

Example of an Accessible Consent Form

A computer with a file on it

Example of Pre-Meeting Prep Document

An agenda

Example of briefing notes for chairperson 

bottom of page