Focus groups can play a very important part in gathering information from consumers or the general public about your business and its products, services and ideas. In a focus group participants gather to talk about their needs, attitudes, opinions, impressions, habits and perceptions about a specific subject. Conducting a focus group can be an effective way to collect honest feedback and additional information about your business or ideas.
Preparation before the focus group
You can use focus groups as an exploratory tool or to give more insight on specific ideas, products or proposals. You need to create a guideline to outline the topics and questions you want to cover. In terms of your questions, never ask deep questions at the beginning of your interview; ask questions that will ease them into the focus group. A good way to ease them is to ask the participants to introduce themselves by explaining what they do, who they are, how old they are, and what they do for work. The goal is to get your group talking as much as possible. Once you have designed your beginning questions, start thinking of broad questions that will encourage discussion on your specific area of interest. Start your question with ‘tell me about a time you’ or ‘imagine if’ you want to avoid questions that can be answered with an either a yes or no. After your main questions make sure you have prepared sub questions to give clarity and squeeze out all the information you can.
Make sure you have a group of around 5-10 people, any larger and the focus can be hard to control and can tend to run for too long, if the group is smaller you will not be able to gather as much information and you may find it is harder to have in-depth discussions. Make sure these participants have some commonalities like age or occupation. It is important that the people attending are people that are open to talking and comfortable with expressing their opinions. It also helps to have participants that don’t know each other very well.
The focus group environment
Make sure the location where your focus group will be held is natural, calm, comfortable and quite. Have it in a place with comfortable chairs, low noise, and not much distraction. Make sure the lighting and air flow is adequate and that all participants can see each other. Providing them with name tags can make it easier for them to communicate. Also make sure you provide beverages and snack food. You want the participants feeling at ease.
The beginning of your focus group
Set up your focus group room and make it look comfortable and inviting. Make sure you have a voice recorder handy so you can have a copy of what was said in the focus group. When the participants arrive allow them to socialise with each other for around 10 minutes, this eases stress and can relax them. Provide food and beverages. When you feel it is time to start the session, ask politely for the participants to take a seat. Once seated, turn on the voice recorder and begin the session with making sure all participants give consent and understand what is expected of them, what the process will be and what you will be doing throughout the session. You want everyone to be on the same page.
During your focus group
Focus on making all your questions open ended, even your follow-on questions must be open ended to allow for elaboration, try get to the root of the issue, the feeling or what is happening in the conversation before moving on. Keep an eye out for members that aren’t speaking or seem to be detached from the focus group, try asking them about their opinion about the matter being discussed in the focus group or address a question to them. You don’t want the same people commenting every time as you will end up having dominated opinions. Make sure you set the tone for conflicting opinions as these usually hold deep information. Give members time to answer and never rush them, keep in mind that some questions can take a while for people to contribute and develop an answer. Do not forget to ask the Who? What? Where? When? How? And why? Questions. Keeping notes of what is said and general expressions of the participants are important as well, as these can prompt you later, when you analyse your information.
Closing your focus group
Once you feel you have enough information and are satisfied with the outcome of the focus group, it’s time to wrap it up and conclude. Thank your participants and ask them how they thought the process went, usually some good information can actually come out from this as well. Once the conversation settles end the focus group and turn the voice recorder off once everyone has left.
In the beginning a focus group can be quite hard to run and prepare for as it is a very uncontrollable technique. Running focus groups gets easier with more practice. The benefits of a focus group however, can provide rich meanings and understanding towards your business.
The next instalment will explain what to do with this information you have gathered and how to create a thematic analysis.