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The Devil's Advocate: A Strategy to Avoid Groupthink and Stimulate Discussion in Focus Groups

The Devil's Advocate: A Strategy to Avoid Groupthink and Stimulate Discussion in Focus Groups


The focus group is an increasingly popular qualitative research method in health research to gain insight into complex problems. Concerns have been expressed about how best to stimulate free and open discussion; especially on controversial issues and/or when the group comprises people with different power and status. A potential pitfall of the focus group technique is group-think: the impact of censoring and conforming as described by such social psychologists as Irving Janis. The article describes an evaluation of a method to reduce groupthink and stimulate creativity and controversy in focus groups that analyzed consultation between an Australian federal government department and its communities. The article recommends to researchers using focus groups the selective use of devil's advocates to reflect different perspectives to groups, to ask questions in a different way, to introduce new questions, and to avoid groups arriving at premature solutions.
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