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Focus Groups as a Research Method: Hear From a Variety of Voices, Explore New Ideas, Gain Clarity and Draw Conclusions

Conducting the focus group

It is important to be well organized on the day of a focus group. 

  • Have a good location secured that is quiet, private and easily accessible to the participants.
  • Have a registration table set up, and have name-tags for each of the participants. 
  • If you are providing any compensation as incentive, make sure to have that ready to be given out at the conclusion of the focus group. 
  • Where possible, focus groups should be audio and videorecorded, so that you can later transcribe the conversation or at least be able to go back and watch it again. 
  • Other than the moderator, there should be only one or two other people from your organization in the room, and only if they have a specific task – like assisting with the videorecording, or helping write on a “flipchart” or markerboard.

Remember, the key to a good focus group is a good group dynamic.  If a potential participant seems disruptive or problematic, you should not hesitate to kindly thank them for their willingness to participate, but let them know that you will not be needing their services (just tell them that you over-recruited and have enough people).  If you are providing an incentive, give this to them regardless of whether or not they actually took part in the focus group.

After that, the focus group is largely in the hands of the moderator.  Once again, the importance of this position cannot be overstated. 

  • The moderator should begin with introductions and then make sure everyone is familiar with the rules of the group – to speak clearly, be respectful of each other and themselves, and  allow one person to speak at a time. 
  • The moderator should let the participants know that there is no right or wrong answer, and that you are looking for a diversity of opinion. 
  • The moderator should make sure that as many people are participating in the conversation, without having any one or two dominant participants.  Some will surely participate more than others, but the moderator will have to work to find the best balance possible.  Tell the participants that you have a lot to get through, so they should not be offended if the moderator has to cut them off or asks to move onto a new topic.
  • The moderator should “probe” and seek clarification when necessary – they should continually ask participants to be specific about what the say, to give examples, and to see if others agree or disagree with what another participant said.

Even if the group is being videotaped and transcribed, someone other than the moderator should be watching and taking notes on the group.  Are there any important issues that came up?  Great quotes?  You might also consider using a flip-chart or whiteboard ask a way to jot down some of the respondents' points in front of the group so that they can all see.

Perhaps most importantly, the moderator must watch the clock!  Plan how much time you would like to spend on each section of your moderator guide before the focus group begins, and make sure to keep on task when the group is being conducted.

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