January 4, 2021
From online, in-person, to hybrid discussions, conducting a focus group is a great way to collect qualitative data directly from consumers. This research method helps businesses better understand their target audience’s behaviors and opinions for data-driven decision making and the creation of effective strategies. Here are four tips on how to get the most out of your focus group for better results.
Be Intentional with your Questions
The effectiveness of a focus group relies on the questions asked to participants. When developing a discussion guide, researchers must focus on the overall objectives of the study. This ensures each question aligns with the specific research goals of the organization. All discussion questions should be open-ended, using unbiased language that all participants can understand. Each question should be relevant to the research topic and organized to encourage a natural flow of discussion. Though the appropriate number of questions relies on the discussion topic, researchers should aim to keep focus groups under two hours to avoid burnout or boredom by participants.
Identify and Adapt to Participant Behaviors
Running a successful focus group requires vigilance, patience, and adaptability. Though participants are chosen using research objectives, moderators cannot predict the personalities of panelists. Without proper moderation, focus group dynamics may become hostile, compromising overall data quality. When conducting a focus group, facilitators must make participants comfortable and set expectations for communication. To make panelists comfortable, moderators should introduce participants to each other using name tags, icebreaker questions, and even games. Creating a casual rapport promotes discussion while providing the facilitator insight into the best approach for effective moderation.
Focus group leaders must ensure that all panelists can share their opinions. To balance participation, moderators must directly engage quieter respondents while politely acknowledging and limiting overtalking and interruptions by dominant panelists. Moderators must carefully analyze the verbal and nonverbal behaviors of participants early on in the group. This may help focus group leaders adapt their approach to accommodate each member accordingly and make each panelist comfortable. Researchers can do this by paying attention to where members sit in the group, one’s initiative to answer questions, and overall body language.
Recognize your Bias
As a moderator, personal bias can have a considerable effect on the quality of insights. With this, it remains imperative that researchers remain neutral throughout the focus group discussion to prevent swaying opinions and maintain a comfortable space to share insights. Before conducting a focus group, moderators should identify any possible cognitive shortcuts, ensuring questions are written using unbiased language. Interview questions should be open-ended and phrased in a way that avoids leading respondents towards a specific answer. When communicating with participants, facilitators must remain impartial, avoiding verbal and nonverbal cues of agreement/disagreement with opinions. The data collected throughout the focus group should be analyzed with possible biases and study objectives taken into consideration.
When in Doubt, Ask for Clarification
Qualitative research remains an exceptional tool for collecting in-depth, personal insights directly from the source. Despite this, moderators run the risk of collecting insufficient data resulting from a lack of specificity by participants. To prevent moderators from misinterpreting responses, one should always ask for clarification when faced with uncertainty. Moderators can use several tactics to ensure their interpretation of a panelist’s response is accurate. One of the most common tactics consists of the researcher paraphrasing the panelist’s response to them, allowing the source to confirm or correct the interpretation. Another way to probe information is to summarize key points at the end of the focus group, allowing participants to add to their responses. Finally, moderators can simply ask what the participant means regarding specific parts of their response. Whatever the preferred method, requesting clarification from panelists may simplify data interpretation by eliminating vagueness that may result in low-quality data and poor decision-making.
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