Focus groups on Facebook - Why don't women engage?


(Sharon Nyangweso) #1

Hello everyone,

I’m a little new to FeverBee. I manage a community of young driven E.Africans who are really eager to change their lives and their communities with social entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship and ICT. I’ve noticed (and the research reaffirms my findings) that young women from the region don’t engage in conversations online. We know that it is a mix of structural and societal factors at high level (access to tech, time spent doing domestic work etc.) that keeps them from engaging. However, I am working on leading a focus group, survey and open discussion on my Facebook community and I was wondering if anyone had thoughts about how to get well thought out answers, and to not have the conversation dominated by male participants.

(Sarah Hawk) #2

Welcome! Good on you for jumping straight in. We really respect that.

I confess to having no experience in this area, but I’m going to see if I can find someone who does. Bear with me.

In the mean time, is it feasible to talk to some of the women personally to find out what the potential barriers to engagement are? Or creating a safe place for them only to interact in while they build confidence and habit?

(Sharon Nyangweso) #3

Hi @HAWK! So that is the direction I’m going in right now. I’m building out a work plan that’s going to create a small (20 women) focus group (FB group chat) and ask them a serious of question that would allow me to build out my answer in a really focused way. I’m also going to use the answers as a jump off to formulate a smaller set of questions to pose to the greater community (men and women). If done well and I get well thought out answers I think my results could be a really useful tool to community managers who work in E. Africa. Thanks so much for responding!

(Bo McGuffee) #4

I think doing this is going to be vital. If you don’t want male voices to dominate, you will need to keep that element out of the process.

When dealing with a group that isn’t used to having their voices valued, you may encounter hesitancy to speak up. Just because you label the space as “safe” and they hear that, it doesn’t mean that they are going to behave as if it is safe. You’re dealing with an entrenched narrative that says speaking up can be bad. I suspect you will need to undermine that narrative from the very beginning. Fwiw, this is what I would do.

In the first question, I would ask them to tell a story about the most positive interaction they have had with another individual or group online. As they share their positive experiences with others online with your online group, I would hope that they would connect the experiences in such a way that they would feel good about what they are doing and more connected (and identify) with each other (yay for oxytocin). Those positive feelings should strengthen the willingness to trust one another as you begin to ask more and more self-revealing questions, as I move from self-affirming stories (easy to tell) to other-criticizing stories (harder to tell).

And don’t forget to weave what you are doing in the fabric of a narrative that is much bigger than just being part of a focus group. Tell them of how you hope what they are doing will open doors to greater understanding and action that will be felt by others across E. Africa. This visionary story will help to weaken the grip of the one that stifles them.

(Sarah Hawk) #5


(Sharon Nyangweso) #6

@irreverance, thank you so much! That is so helpful especially the order of questions. I really like the idea of starting them off with an anecdote that makes the space more comfortable and light. I LOVE the idea of placing the focus group in the context of a larger effort to make the internet a safe and welcoming place for African women. Thanks again!

(Bo McGuffee) #7

You’re very welcome @snyangweso. I’m glad it helped.

(Katie Paffhouse Bussey) #8

Building on @irreverance and @HAWK’s great points -

We work on modeling desired behavior. Would you be able to identify a few women who are comfortable being vocal in groups with men and purposefully invite them to the open discussion? Sometimes we find people need to see someone they identify with to build their courage to participate.

(Joe Narusis) #9

I think all of the comment above are great ideas. Here are a couple more that I came up backed with research evidence.

Tips on how to improve participation Women in Africa

(Note - This does not apply to everyone in Africa, there are always exceptions and subgroups where these will not work. These are general trends found in the research for Eastern and Sub-Saharan African women.)

  1. Use an all women focus group - As mentioned in the posts above, an all women focus group is a great idea. This will allows the women to feel more safe due to a shared identity, all being women.

  2. Make sure it seems easy for them to participate - Make sure whatever forum you use (facebook is a great idea due to its wide usage) that it seems easy for women to use. Research shows women are more likely to use technology if they think it is easy to use before they start using it (Meso, Phillip, & Mbarika, 2005).

  3. Provide lots of structure about the tasks to be completed - Provide lots of structure for the group, make sure people are clear on what they have to do to contribute to the focus group. A great way to do this is to create a document of the guidelines of the focus group and expectations. Generally speaking African cultures show a high deference to authority, therefore they do not feel comfortable leading the group. It is common for leaders (i.e., the person leading the focus group in this case) in this cultures to almost act as parents, being stern and task focused when needed to stay on task yet very caring and relationship focused the rest of the time (Blunt & Jones, 1996). This style tends to be preferred by those living in Africa.

  4. _Create a vision related to personal relationship_s - Although it is uncommon in African cultures (Walumbwa, Orwa, Wang, & Lawler, 2005), research suggests creating an overall vision for the group. What are the members of your ideal group like? What is our end goal? And most importantly, how do we reach that end goal? Family and tribal relationships are also extremely important (Blunt & Jones, 1996). Make sure to respect obligations to family and ethnic group and try to relate the vision of the group to these family and ethnic ties.

  5. Have all women in the group be of a similar age- Try to have women who are all similar ages in the group. When interacting with different age groups, African societies tend to defer to age (Linquist & Adolph, 1996). So if you have someone who is much older in the group, this may cause the younger members from speaking up.

  6. Remind women that they can do it!!! - In Sub-Saharan Africa women tend to be told they are not good or smart enough to work in the ICT space. Use yourself as an example of what a women can do in this space (Hafkin & Taggart, 2001).

  7. Show how ICT can help them improve their business- Talk about how ICT can be used not to change their current lifestyle, but improve what they are already doing such as running a small business. This article has some great examples

(Sharon Nyangweso) #10

This is some really great research you’ve pulled up @JoeNarusis! Although I’m a little weary of some of the language - sounds a little paternalistic. Definitely some important things to consider. I’ve been working on my questions and the structure of the focus group and all the ideas I’ve gotten have really helped. I’ll update you all when I get it off the ground!
Thanks again!

(Joe Narusis) #11

Hi Sharon,

Paternalistic is exactly what I was going for. Believe it or not, paternalistic leadership styles tend to be preferred by those living in Africa:

In the US, we would see this as condescending and overbearing, but it is expected and preferred by those leading groups in Africa.

Good luck and I look forward to hearing how it goes!!!

(Sharon Nyangweso) #12

Hi @JoeNarusis, I think as community managers we should always take academic research not as the gospel truth, but rather a tool that may help us understand our work better. This might mean being actively critical of certain bodies of work. For instance, paternal leadership may be a trend that has taken over since colonialism in Africa, but it is not necessarily preferred. In fact I’d argue that taking that approach may damage the relationship you would have with community members from the continent.
I was actually born and raised in East Africa. So in my view, paternalism may be the wrong answer to the right question.
I hope my focus group and continued research will give us all some really interesting insight!

(Joe Narusis) #13

Hi @snyangweso,

I completely agree. This research should not be taken as gospel, but as a tool to guide us. There are always exceptions and changes in preferences. It sounds like you have great insight and experience to see how the research I suggested fits into your focus group. You also make a great point about how trends are changing and the research is not always up with the time, specifically how this paternalistic style may not as preferred anymore. I would then suggest trying a more transformational style that focuses on relationships and a shared vision. This builds on more internal motivation factors that are found across humanity, as opposed to cultural preferences. Thank you for providing me with some more insight about East Africa, it is always very interesting to hear how right (or wrong in this case) the research can be in practice.

I have no doubt that your practical experience and analytical skills will create some great insight from your focus groups!.