Citation Moore T, McKee K & McLoughlin P (2015) Online Focus Groups and Qualitative Research: their merits and limitations in a study of housing and youth. People, Place and Policy, 9 (1), pp. 17-28. https://doi.org/10.3351/ppp.0009.0001.0002
Abstract This paper considers the use of online focus groups as a method for conducting qualitative research in the social sciences. Researchers have increasingly utilised online focus groups involving live, synchronous chat room interactions. However, to date there has been little insight and a lack of discussion as to the applicability of online focus groups in the social sciences. Reflecting on a study of young people’s housing opportunities and financial welfare in the UK, this paper considers the advantages and limitations of online qualitative methods. We argue that online methods offer significant advantages, especially in longer-term studies crossing time and space, but that their design and implementation raise methodological challenges, with implications for the depth and insight of the knowledge produced. Their use for social science research therefore requires reflexivity and adjustment, including attention to the positionality of the researcher, the nature and level of participant involvement, and adjustment to the loss of non-verbal cues and interactions found in conventional qualitative research. This paper advances knowledge on the opportunities of and challenges to online methodologies, and highlights how creative use of web-based technology can support social scientists conducting qualitative research.