Qualitative research uses a variety of methodologies and is essential to understanding your target market’s needs, wants, and motivations. A focus group is one form of qualitative research that allows you to explore these deeper issues in a group setting. This article provides a step-by-step guide on creating and executing a focus group.
Definition: Focus Group
A focus group is a qualitative research method used to gain in-depth insights by talking about a given topic with a group of people. The group comprises six to twelve individuals chosen based on specific criteria, such as age, gender, and occupation, that make them suitable for providing valuable insights.1
A moderator guides the discussion and probes deeper into the participants’ thoughts and feelings on the topic. The goal is to generate an in-depth understanding of the participants’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Focus group discussions can be used to explore various topics, from consumer behavior to political opinions.
For example, a company might be developing a new advertising campaign and want to understand how the target audience feels about the design of the new ads. The company would start by showing the ads to the focus group and then ask questions about the participants’ reactions. Based on the answers, the company might opt to change the campaign before it is launched.
Main pillars of a focus group
A focus group has two main pillars: the participants and the moderator. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
The participants are the people who take part in the focus group. They are typically selected to represent a cross-section of the target audience for the product or service being discussed. The number of participants varies, but a good rule of thumb is six to eight people.
These group sessions tend to consist of participants with similar demographic characteristics, such as age, gender, and income. If the researcher wishes to explore various demographics, they will conduct multiple discussions with different groups of people.2
The role of a moderator
The moderator is the leader of the focus group. They are responsible for asking questions, keeping the discussion on track, and making sure that all participants have a chance to share their opinions.
A good moderator will make the participants feel comfortable and encourage them to share their genuine opinions. However, the moderator should also be objective and impartial, as their personal opinions and biases could influence the discussion.
How to create a focus group step by step
Now that you know the basics of focus group discussions, let’s look at how to set one up.
1. Step: Choose your topic of interest
A focus group is a research methodology mainly used to confirm or refute hypotheses brought to the table by the researcher. Generally, the best research topics to explore through focus group discussions are those looking to explore people’s beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.
Some examples of topics that have been explored using this type of research include:
- How do people feel about the current state of the economy?
- What are people’s perceptions of a particular brand?
- What are people’s thoughts on a new product or service?
- How do employees feel about their company’s policies?
- How do students feel about the education they are receiving?
2. Step: Define your research scope and hypotheses
The next step is to define your research scope and hypotheses, meaning what you hope to learn from the focus group discussions. This will help you determine the type of questions you need to ask and what sort of participants you need to recruit.
Be as specific as possible when defining your research scope and hypotheses, as it will make it easier to determine if the discussions successfully answered your research question.
3. Step: Develop your focus group questions
Once you have defined your research scope and hypotheses, it’s time to develop the questions that will be asked during the discussion.
When developing your questions, remember that they should be:
- Open-ended to encourage participants to share their thoughts and feelings and stimulate discussion.
- Relevant to the focus group topic.
- Neutral to avoid leading the participants in any particular direction.
- Unambiguous to avoid confusion.
- Unbiased to avoid affecting the participants’ responses.
If you’re dealing with a controversial issue, ensure your questions don’t lead to social desirability bias. This is when participants give responses that are socially acceptable instead of their true opinions.
4. Step: Choose a moderator or co-moderator
The next step is to choose a moderator or co-moderator for your focus group discussions. The moderator is responsible for keeping the discussion on track and ensuring that all the questions are answered. It’s essential to choose a moderator who is:
- Experienced in facilitating focus group discussions.
- Knowledgeable about the research topic.
- Skilled in managing group dynamics.
- Neutral and objective.
Finding someone who can act as a co-moderator is also a good idea. This person will be responsible for coordinating the technology, taking notes, and observing the participants’ reactions.
5. Step: Recruit participants
The next step is to recruit participants for your focus group discussions. You can choose from a variety of sampling methods, such as:
- Voluntary response sampling: you simply ask people if they’re interested in participating and then select the participants from those who respond.
- Convenience sampling: you select participants from a population that’s easily accessible, such as employees at your company or students at your school.
- Stratified sampling: you divide the population into subgroups (strata) and then select a certain number of participants from each stratum.
- Judgement sampling: you select participants based on your judgement of who would be the most suitable for your research.
You also have to decide how many participants to recruit. This will depend on the size of the focus group discussions you plan to have. Generally, it’s best to have at least six participants per discussion group but not more than 12. It’s also a good idea to recruit slightly more people than necessary for each group in case some participants drop out at the last minute.
6. Step: Set up your focus group discussion
Now it’s time to set up your focus group discussion. You’ll need to:
Confirm the time and date with the participants
- The average run-time of a focus group is 45-90 minutes but can be longer.
- Include breaks for sessions longer than 90 minutes.
Choose if the focus group will be online or in-person
- Online groups are convenient but can make participants feel less connected to each other.
- In-person sessions create a better connection, but an uncomfortable setting can create an unpleasant mood and stifle people’s expressivity.
Select a quiet and comfortable location
- This is important for in-person sessions as it can make participants feel more relaxed and open.
Set up the technology
- If you’re conducting an online session, you’ll need to choose a platform like Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts
- You’ll need to rent or purchase a video camera, recorder, and microphone for in-person sessions.
Consider consent and ethical issues
Participants must provide informed consent, meaning they:
- Understand what the focus group is about and what their involvement will entail.
- Are aware of any risks or benefits associated with participation.
- Have been informed of funding sources and institutional approval.
- Know they have the right to withdraw from the focus group at any time.
Take measures to protect the participant’s privacy and confidentiality:
- True anonymity is challenging to maintain in a focus group discussion, and participants must be made aware.
- Options you have to keep information private include:
- Removing identifying data from your report
- Pseudonymize the data, meaning that you replace identifying information with fictitious details.
Prepare for the focus group discussion
- Inform participants if they must do anything to prepare for the discussion, such as fill out a pre-discussion questionnaire.
- Call participants the day before to ensure they are still participating.
7. Step: Conduct the focus group discussion
The next step is to conduct the focus group discussion. Beforehand, check that everything is working properly.
There are three main parts to a focus group discussion:
The opening is when you welcome participants, introduce yourself and your team and explain the rules and structure of the discussion. You should also thank participants for their time and explain how important their input is. An icebreaker can also be helpful here to help participants feel more comfortable.
This is the main section where participants discuss the topic at hand. As the moderator, your role is to guide the discussion using your pre-prepared questions as a starting point that you can deviate from if necessary. It’s important to let participants speak freely and not to interrupt them. You should also encourage participants to elaborate on their answers.
The closing is when you thank participants for their time and contributions, let them know how you’ll be using their feedback, and allow them to ask any final questions. Also, explain when and how they’ll be able to see the results.
8. Step: Analyze and report the results
After the focus group discussion, it’s time to analyze and report the results. You will start by transcribing the discussion, coding the transcripts, and analyzing the data.
When transcribing the discussion, it’s essential to be as accurate as possible. This means typing out everything that was said verbatim.
Next, you need to code the transcripts. This involves identifying and categorizing any themes that emerge from the data.
Finally, when analyzing the data, look for both positive and negative feedback. You should also try to identify any patterns that emerge. Once you’ve analyzed the data, you can compile your report.
Advantages and disadvantages of a focus group
Like any other research methodology, focus groups have their advantages and disadvantages.
|They are simple and relatively inexpensive to set up.||The small sample size means that the results may not be representative of the population as a whole.|
|They provide an opportunity for in-depth exploration of a topic.||They can be biased if the moderator is not neutral.|
|They can generate new ideas and insights.||The quality of the results depends on the moderator's skill.|
|The results have a high level of trustworthiness and relevance.||Participants may not be honest if they feel their responses will reflect badly on them.|
|They are less time-consuming than other types of research.||The lack of true anonymity may mean that participants do not feel free to express their true opinions.|
|They make it easier to understand the underlying motivations than raw data from a survey.||The analysis and conclusions are prone to error if the researcher unwittingly engages in confirmation bias.|
A focus group is a group discussion usually guided by a trained moderator where participants are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes on a given topic. The purpose is to gather detailed feedback and insights on a specific issue or topic
Focus group discussions provide an opportunity to explore people’s views in-depth and probe for underlying reasons and motivations.
Focus group discussions have a relatively small sampling size that may not be representative of the larger population. Bias is also an issue, as participants may feel pressure to conform to group norms or give the answer they think the researcher wants to hear.
Focus group discussions usually comprise 6-12 people brought together in a comfortable setting to discuss a particular topic. A trained moderator guides the discussion using a set of pre-prepared questions, but participants are also encouraged to raise their own issues and explore areas of disagreement.3
1 Jarvis, Sharon E., and Laura Barberena. “Focus Group.” Sage researchmethods. Accessed August 25, 2022. https://methods.sagepub.com/reference/encyclopedia-of-survey-research-methods/n192.xml.
2 Eliot & Associates. “Guidelines for Conducting a Focus Group.” Accessed August 25, 2022. https://www.researchprospect.com/ethnographic-research/.
3Gibbs, Anita. “Focus Groups.” University of Surrey. Accessed August 25, 2022. https://sru.soc.surrey.ac.uk/SRU19.html.