Focus groups as a method for accessing stakeholder voice in public sector community mental health
Caverly, Susan Elizabeth
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This research represents a secondary analysis of a series of thirty focus groups addressing the topic of public sector community mental health services. These groups were conducted with four designated constituency groups (Consumers and Advocates, Children's Service Providers, Health and Social Service Providers, and Justice Service Providers) in three geographic locations in Washington state.The purpose of this secondary analysis was to explore the potential for using focus groups as a method for gathering information from the public stakeholders in the community mental health delivery system. The significance of this hinges on the reality that the citizenry funds public sector community mental health services yet few citizen stakeholders participate in the determination of service need, planning or evaluation. Professional expertise and voice has historically been privileged thereby diminishing community ownership of public mental health services and jeopardizing funding allocations. A trustworthy, cost-effective method is needed if a broad range of stakeholders are to be included in the processes noted above, even if only to educate those who have the authority to make public mental health policy. Focus groups hold potential to be this method.This research developed a model for planning and conducting focus groups that was shown to yield trustworthy data that was generalizable to similar constituencies or regions. Transcripts of focus groups were analyzed using ATLAS.ti and Excel. Patterns of consistencies were found in transcript themes among and across constituency clusters; these supported the validity and usefulness of focus groups for accessing stakeholder voice and public opinion. Limitations of the research include transcription quality, coding issues, and most importantly the lack of ethnic diversity of participants. Further study is recommended to evaluate the application of focus groups in other public service arenas and to explore ways in which this method might be more effective with regard to involving a diverse and representative population in the public discourse.