Focus group discussions have been in the toolkit of social scientists for some time now. In more recent decades the use of focus group discussions has increased amongst the health and social sciences as a tool to inform policy and practice. For example, focus group discussions have been used in health and behavioural research, strategic planning, health promotion, policy development and programme evaluation. The increased use of focus group discussions is partly due to a broader acceptability of qualitative methods in these disciplines, but also due to a greater emphasis on the inclusion of qualitative methods in mixed-method research designs, to respond to research issues not accessible by quantitative approaches. This more recent emphasis on integrating qualitative and quantitative approaches has been encouraged by research funding bodies and has led to a renewed focus on training in mixed-method research design for post-graduates in academic institutions.
The increased use of focus group discussions has led to a greater number and variety of researchers using the method. Focus group discussions are also being applied in a greater variety of settings than in the past. In particular, focus group discussions are often used in international research, particularly in developing country contexts. For example, health research on issues such as family planning, HIV/AIDS and the development of social and community initiatives now often include focus group discussions in the research methodology.