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So You want to do a Focus Group?

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Investigating focus groups as a research alternative, thinking about moderating, or looking for material to teach about focus groups, read on and copy what's valuable!

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So You want to do a Focus Group?

  1. 1. Updated 2011
  2. 2. <ul><li>Defining focus groups </li></ul><ul><li>Typical characteristics of focus groups </li></ul><ul><li>When to use focus groups </li></ul><ul><li>When not to use focus groups </li></ul><ul><li>Types of focus groups </li></ul><ul><li>Key steps in focus group research </li></ul><ul><li>Strengths and limitations </li></ul><ul><li>Practical Tips </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Carefully planned discussion designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment. Like a small, temporary community </li></ul><ul><li>Discussion is “focused” by the goals of the researcher </li></ul><ul><li>Individuals involved are mostly homogenous – not typically meant for representativeness or generalization but for in-depth information </li></ul><ul><li>Doesn’t assume people have a set opinion </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>Primary (stand-alone) data collection </li></ul><ul><li>Qualitative complement to quantitative investigation </li></ul><ul><li>A first or second step in quantitative investigation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Either to help in development of the quantitative phase or to follow up on interesting/surprising results </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>What are the important issues or questions? </li></ul><ul><li>How do people talk about them? </li></ul><ul><li>What language do they use? </li></ul><ul><li>What concepts are salient? </li></ul><ul><li>In surveys specifically (Morgan, 1997): </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Capturing all the domains that need to be measured </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Determining the dimensions that make up each of these domains </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Providing item wordings that effectively convey the researcher’s intent to survey respondents </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>Permissive environment </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Moderator not in a position of power </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mostly homogenous group </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pre-session interaction </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Tape/video recorded and notes </li></ul><ul><li>Purpose of the study is disclosed </li></ul><ul><li>Salty and sugary snacks </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>When group interaction is desirable </li></ul><ul><li>When “how” and “why” questions are more important than “whether” or “how much” </li></ul><ul><li>When you seek contextual responses rather than simple yes/no responses </li></ul><ul><li>When understanding of the complexity of behaviors and attitudes is sought </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>When you need statistical data, yes/no answers, or rated, scaled responses –focus groups do not yield quantitative data </li></ul><ul><li>When trust cannot be established </li></ul><ul><li>When free expression of participants can’t be ensured </li></ul><ul><li>When confidentiality is critical but can’t be protected </li></ul><ul><li>When participants have problems with social aspect of group participation (topic is very sensitive or personal!) </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>Traditional focus groups </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Face-to-face meetings, 8-12 participants, about 2 hours, 1 moderator </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Mini focus groups </li></ul><ul><ul><li>4-6 participants, similar to traditional groups in other respects </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Triads </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Telephone/Video focus groups </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Telephone conference call, 6-10 participants, slightly shorter (1 - 1.5 hours) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Online focus groups </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Web site access/facilitation, varied number of participants and session length, moderated via web interface </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>Use of volunteers – “opinions for pizza” </li></ul><ul><li>Two moderators </li></ul><ul><li>Repeated focus groups </li></ul><ul><li>Side-note on incentives: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Paying for opinions equals bad opinions” mentality – not really </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cash is king – but donations sometimes more appropriate </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>Determine objective(s) of research </li></ul><ul><li>Determine recruitment approach </li></ul><ul><li>Develop participant profile </li></ul><ul><li>Design screening instrument </li></ul><ul><li>Develop discussion guide to support research objectives </li></ul><ul><li>Recruit participants and form groups </li></ul><ul><li>Conduct focus groups </li></ul><ul><li>Analyze feedback (tapes, notes, etc.) </li></ul><ul><li>Write report </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>What do you want to learn? </li></ul><ul><li>What action will you be able to take after results are in? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Important for developing the participant profile/screener </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dictates the moderators guide </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is the outline for the report </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>Need to define your population </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Including: geographic location, age, race, other characteristics of interest </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Women, age 40+, with 2+ children in HH, who work full-time </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Males, age 24-32, with a particular view/attitude/heath condition, etc. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Be careful of “over-defining” the population </li></ul><ul><ul><li>False sense of representation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>More definition = lower incidence = $$$ </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. <ul><li>What is your desired group composition, size and how many groups will you have? </li></ul><ul><li>What kind of screening questions should be asked? (see population definition) </li></ul><ul><li>How will you group people? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Demographically </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>By attitude </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Spouses – together or separate groups or both? </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. <ul><li>Decisions should be based on your research goals </li></ul><ul><li>Strangers vs. non-strangers </li></ul><ul><li>Homogeneity of group is threatened by an “expert” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Need to know specific characteristics and any pre-existing relationships before deciding who to include </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Typical guidelines: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Size 8-12 (some say 7-10) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Homogenous (all male/female, similar ages, no authorities, free to speak) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Be careful – too much homogeneity can thwart group dynamics </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1-2 moderators – often bring someone in from the outside, depending on topic </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. <ul><li>How will you recruit? Professional recruiter or ads? </li></ul><ul><li>Where will you place the ads? </li></ul><ul><li>How much and what kind of information will you put in the ad? With what consequence? </li></ul><ul><li>How many people will you recruit ? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The “show-up” rate </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Need to start recruiting well in advance to ensure that you get enough people in each group (the “right” people) </li></ul><ul><li>Be aware of “professional” focus group members </li></ul>
  17. 17. <ul><li>Basic moderator tasks: </li></ul><ul><li>Introduce purpose and goals of group (create non-threatening environment) </li></ul><ul><li>Instruct participants about the process </li></ul><ul><li>Direct discussion </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ensure that group keeps on track </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Active, balanced participation </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Probe and motivate responses </li></ul><ul><li>All guidelines are set forth in a Moderator Guide (that begins with the research objective) </li></ul><ul><li>Moderating is a skill – good moderator’s listen more than they talk! They understand group and individual behavior </li></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>The moderator guide should not look like a survey! </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Should be mostly open-ended questions and not too many questions overall </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Questions should be relatively short (not wordy) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Do include probes </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Questions should motivate the participants to think about what they feel, think, or believe – questions and answers shouldn’t feel “mechanical” </li></ul><ul><li>Keep it short & push back on “kitchen sink” questions </li></ul><ul><li>Guide should build up to the payload question(s) so group has built momentum and comfort </li></ul>
  19. 19. <ul><li>Types (order) of questions – General to Specific </li></ul><ul><li>Intro – yes, you’re being taped & there are people behind the window </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Poll: Who has participated in groups in the past? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>I will gently move us forward – take permission to interrupt </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Opening question </li></ul><ul><ul><li>An “Ice Breaker” that everyone can answer – but make it relevant to the topic & not yes/no or corny! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Introductory questions – these are the “plants” </li></ul><ul><li>Transition questions </li></ul><ul><li>Key questions </li></ul><ul><li>Ending questions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>All things considered </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Summary </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Final thoughts </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. <ul><li>Encourage interaction, not “serial interviewing” (e.g., going around the room and having one person answer after the other) – build on opinion </li></ul><ul><li>But, beware of the shy – they attend focus groups too </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Good technique, especially at start of group: write down reactions/answers then read aloud </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Bullies come too – but moderators rule </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Standing – subtle but effective </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The “drink of water” technique </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Kind but firm direction </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Projection techniques </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What other opinions do you hear are out there? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Especially for teens: What are your friends saying/doing? </li></ul></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>Flips-charts – effective for in-group and feedback analysis (the report) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ask group to help you summarize, rank-order, prioritize, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Good for transition </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Good for back-up if recording equipment fails (yes, it happens) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Respondent materials – collect their notes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Might help with analysis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bigger issue is that notes don’t end up in next group’s hands (or in industry, with a competitor) </li></ul></ul>
  22. 22. <ul><li>Avoid questions that impose assumptions or that are leading or misleading </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid supplying response options </li></ul><ul><ul><li>But playing devil’s advocate is effective! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Ask only one question at a time </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t ask “yes/no” questions (“Do you…”) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Instead: “How much do you…” or “Describe for me…” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Make it interesting </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>Activities/techniques that might be used: </li></ul><ul><li>Paper and pencil exercises </li></ul><ul><ul><li>2-minute paper </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Top of mind” exercises </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Create personal ads for product/service </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Projective Techniques </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Describe object of interest as something else (e.g., describe the University as an animal) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Designing utopia – the perfect world </li></ul><ul><li>Tradeoff analyses </li></ul><ul><li>Sentence completions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>E.g., “I was surprised that…” </li></ul></ul>
  24. 24. <ul><li>Transcript-based </li></ul><ul><li>Tape-based </li></ul><ul><li>Note-based </li></ul><ul><li>Memory-based (bad idea unless you’re really good) </li></ul><ul><li>Analysis must be systematic </li></ul><ul><li>Presentation to clients: Report and/or oral/multi-media </li></ul><ul><li>Be careful on the terms you use – stay away from quantitative language </li></ul><ul><li>Use of direct quotes, video clips, pictures </li></ul>
  25. 25. <ul><li>Good resource for things like how to set up the room, what kind of facility to use, etc. </li></ul>
  26. 26. <ul><li>Depends on aims/context </li></ul><ul><li>Sample – larger than interviews, smaller than survey; particular rather than representative </li></ul><ul><li>Time needed </li></ul><ul><li>Moderator, respondent, and group effects all come into play </li></ul><ul><li>Different for different applications (sometimes the focus group isn’t the best strategy) </li></ul>
  27. 27. <ul><li>&quot;As we look ahead to the next presidential debate, we urge journalists to pay special attention to how they portray the results of focus groups and other instant measures of voters' reactions to the debate,&quot; said Murray Edelman, president of AAPOR. &quot;All too often, journalists will state correctly that the results of such samples are not scientific, then go ahead and report them and analyze them as though they were.&quot; </li></ul>
  28. 28. <ul><li>Recruiting problems? Check your holidays. </li></ul><ul><li>Establish yourself as a gentle boss </li></ul><ul><li>Cell phones off or on vibrate </li></ul><ul><li>Serving chips? Get them out of the bag! </li></ul><ul><li>Be sure you (as moderator) aren’t voicing understanding (uh-huh) while respondents are talking </li></ul><ul><li>Establish ‘trust’ by voicing your impartiality to the subject; you are only the messenger </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t over-dress – unless you need to dominate </li></ul><ul><li>Respondent’s say the silliest things – “that’s an interesting point” becomes a frequent statement </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t let one topic/point dominate or be over-discussed – firmly move things along </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>Need to get a respondent out of the room? – “Mr. Jones, you have a call . . .” </li></ul><ul><li>Back-room – </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Check periodically with observers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>When group responses don’t jive with initial hypothesis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Wrong respondents? Usually not! </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Summarize conclusions to major questions prior to disbanding </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Moderate the observers also! </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What did observers hear? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Participant population – think about recruiting implications: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Time of day for groups </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Who might show up with respondents (kids, parents, significant others, etc.) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dietary issues </li></ul></ul>

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