April 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW2

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Assessing Financial Empowerment through Group Interviews

Focus groups were used to understand program effectiveness of the Women's Financial Information Program (WFIP) in Indiana. Participants in the focus groups indicated a need for clearer statements of program goals as courses were advertised. Also, participants expressed an interest in having additional programs on personal finance that were not necessarily as long or as structured as WFIP. Using focus groups was helpful in making future plans for the program and developing additional programming.

Sharon DeVaney
Assistant Professor
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana
Internet address: sdevaney@vm.cc.purdue.edu

Janet Bechman
State Extension Specialist
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana
Internet address: jcb@mace.cc.purdue.edu


Group interviews, also known as focus groups, are a research technique that can collect information that may not emerge from a written survey (Greenbaum, 1993). A major benefit of a group interview is that participants tend to give candid information; a major disadvantage is that data obtained from a small sample cannot easily be generalized to the population as a whole. Nevertheless, participants' comments can provide useful information. The purpose of this article is to discuss insights gained as a result of two group interviews conducted with 19 participants in financial education programs in Indiana. In the programs, women, particularly those at mid-life, are encouraged to "take charge" of their finances following a series of lessons, the use of a workbook, and discussion led by volunteers (American Association of Retired Persons, 1992).


Conducting a focus group consists of three steps: planning, interviewing, and analysis. In the first step, the objectives of the study are clarified, a target audience identified, a meeting place selected, and a set of questions is developed based on the objectives. Next, a trained moderator conducts the interview with participants who have responded to an invitation. The moderator advises participants that all are welcome to speak but courtesy in allowing each person to have a voice must be observed. Audio or videotaping is suggested as a means of recording participants' comments; however, all participants must agree to the taping. Finally, the moderator prepares a written summary interpreting the responses given by the group.

Participants' Comments

The objective of the focus groups was to uncover some of the issues that define the nature and scope of the financial empowerment education lessons. When asked their reasons for attending, the Indiana participants' responses included: wanting to know more about finances prior to retirement, needing financial knowledge after loss of a spouse, and coping with debt. When asked what the program was supposed to accomplishment and whether it had met their expectations, participants were less clear in describing the goals of the program. Some were reluctant to say whether it had met their expectations. Although most expressed genuine satisfaction with "what they learned," it was difficult for several to articulate the behavioral changes that had taken place as a result of the learning (Engle, Blackwell & Miniard, 1992). Many expressed a need for wanting information in greater depth than the lecture and workbook. Some volunteered that their spouses had no interest in communicating about finances and left "bill paying" to them while other husbands handled all financial matters and didn't want to communicate.


There seemed to be a need for program leaders to more clearly communicate the goals of the program in both the publicity and the first lesson. Doing so should help participants more clearly focus on what they want to learn, to decide if the course would help them to meet that goal, and then be able to verbalize meeting the goal. Although many participants expressed the feeling that they "could take charge," they admitted that there were actions that they panned to do but had not yet undertaken. A technique to promote the desired behavior change may be to have participants make a list of actions at the end of each lesson and then to review the actions the following week. Since poor communication with a spouse was frequently mentioned as barrier to taking charge of finances, this seems to indicate a need for developing better skills for communicating about financial management. Finally, instead of waiting for a second series of lessons, program leaders may want to meet the expressed need for more information by scheduling speakers on separate topics such as investments and retirement planing.


American Association of Retired Persons. (1992). The Women's Financial Information Program. Washington, D.C.: AARP.

Engel, J. F., Blackwell, R.D., and Miniard, P.W. (1992) "The Attitude-Behavior Relationship," Consumer Behavior. Chicago: The Dryden Press. pp. 304-323.

Greenbaum, T. L. (1993). The Handbook for Focus Group Research. New York: Lexington Books.