Focus Group FAQ
What are focus groups?
A focus group is a moderated group discussion, usually with 6-12 participants, led by a facilitator/moderator. While most focus groups bring participants physically together at a specific site and are moderated in person, you can conduct a focus group over the telephone or via the Internet. In addition to the moderator, you may have one or more people taking notes and observing but having little or no interaction with participants.
How does a focus group work?
Groups usually run 60-120 minutes but can last as long as a full day. At the beginning, the moderator explains the purpose of the group, the guidelines of focus group participation and sets the tone for an open and tolerant atmosphere. The moderator then follows a script with questions, making changes or additions as needed. Focus group participants are encouraged to share their honest thoughts and opinions.
Sometimes participants are asked to do exercises (like making a collage on a topic or writing responses to questions) before coming to the focus group to share in the group. Other times, they might take part in various activities (building a model or trying a product) during the focus group time. Focus group participants can also be asked to draw conclusions or make recommendations.
Focus group participants are asked to sign a confidentiality/waiver form that protects the organization’s information that may be discussed in the group and protects the confidentiality of the participants’ identities.
What are the purposes for holding a focus group?
This method of qualitative research has been used for fifty years. They are most appropriate when you want to:
- Explore themes, issues, concepts
- Get input on many different dimensions of a specific topic (or product/service/brand)
- Obtain feedback on known problem areas
- Dig deeper into what is motivating and driving certain opinions or preferences
- Determine the full range of factors and opinions that might be involved in a topic before you conduct a random sample survey
Focus groups are not appropriate for testing/proving hypotheses or generalizing results to general population or sub populations because you are not using a probability sample and the research process is not standardized.
How do people get recruited to participate?
Participant selection is highly important to focus group success. You want to choose people who have some awareness and interest in the topic but won’t consider themselves an expert on the topic and dominate the conversation. Typically, you will have some guidelines for screening participants. Sometimes, you want diversity among the group so you get a wide range of responses. Other times, you may want a group to be more homogeneous on certain criteria – for example, if you were studying health services you might have each group include only one gender or if you were looking at a group of educators, you might have one group for teachers and one for administrators so participants would feel freer to talk.
Do focus groups participants get paid?
Most groups give participants some type of payment or incentive as compensation for their time and input. Typically, the more difficult it is to find and recruit participants (physicians for example), the greater the incentive. Incentives can be a check, gift cards, donation to their charity or other organization they support, chance in a drawing, etc.
What happens with the focus group input?
The group input is reviewed and reported to the company or organization holding the groups. These reports highlight the main themes expressed, give simple answer counts to questions posed and provide anecdotal or verbatim (exact quotes from participants) responses. The findings from a focus group can be helpful when organizations are making decisions about product development, marketing, customer service, fundraising, communications, and other areas of operation. Often the findings are then tested in a larger population of people in a scientifically valid quantitative survey conducted by phone or online.