Focus group discussions as sites for public deliberation and sensemaking following shared political documentary viewing

Margaret Jane Pitts, Kate Kenski, Stephanie A. Smith, Corey A. Pavlich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This study examines the potential that shared political documentary viewing coupled with public deliberation via focus group discussion has for political sensemaking and civic engagement. Specifically, we examine college students' perceptions of sensemaking, future civic engagement, and benefits of participating in group discussion following the shared viewing of D'Souza's political documentary 2016: Obama's America. Focus group participants reported that engaging in discussion served to clarify, affirm, and reinforce some initial impressions while opening their eyes to new insights and information. Focus group participation triggered a desire to seek out and hear additional diverse points of view and offered participants the opportunity to diffuse negative emotions and reflect upon media content. Participants reported that they enjoyed participating in this form of guided discussion, reported increased confidence in their abilities to engage in public political deliberation, and reported feeling a call to future civic action. Our findings show that political documentary viewing coupled with focus group discussions can be a productive site for public deliberation that can lead to enhanced sensemaking and positive future civic behaviors including intentions to extend discussions to personal networks and to research issues raised in the discussion or documentary. We address implications for deliberative pedagogy and focus groups as public deliberation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6
JournalJournal of Public Deliberation
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017


  • Civic engagement
  • Deliberation & political conversation
  • Deliberative pedagogy
  • Discourse
  • Entertainment / popular media / popular culture
  • Participation
  • Qualitative - Focus groups
  • Sensemaking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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