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3 Things That Surprise Clients About Effective Focus Groups

One can assume more is better when new to focus group-style research. As business people, we love the certainty survey research brings, and think more is better. For focus groups, it is not, which can surprise one.

Focus groups are scripted conversations on specific topics with people with particular attributes. In this research style, we are interested in the range of perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes on the subjects up for discussion, not consensus. Whether in-person or online, focus groups are optimal when they encourage the range of views to surface in the conversation.

Here are three things that surprise clients about effective focus groups.

  1. More attendees are not better. While I’ve conducted larger groups, eight participants, or even six, can lead to better results. One way to think about it is a logical time calculation. Most groups last two hours maximum. Assume twenty minutes of that time is needed for welcome, introductions, catching the participants up to your question and any background, and wrap-up, leaving an hour and forty minutes. Subtract any additional concept presentation and exercises, and you are likely at an hour and twenty minutes. Divide that time by the participants. Of those eighty minutes, with eight participants, that’s ten minutes of total feedback per participant for the group. More participants mean less feedback per person on average. We typically hold two or more groups to hear more feedback, rather than have more people in a group.

  2. More content is not always better. My transcription service adds the percentage of time each person is talking, including the moderator, making me conscious of how much time the moderator takes to present the questions. It’s a balance to get the most out of the group but not have so much content that the conversation gets squeezed out. Three or four topics, depending on the topics, are about right. You can do the same calculation as with the participants: with four topics and the ten minutes each from the eight participants, that’s two-and-a-half minutes per participant, per topic. More content provides you with less feedback per topic.

  3. Listen for the ranges. The final point that can surprise clients is how we use focus groups: listening for the ranges of comments and understanding that one participant’s comment has as much validity as others saying something different. Clients come with specific research questions but are also experienced and talented in their field. Hearing candid feedback is often enough to decide on the issue at hand, especially when coupled with other data, to determine a direction.

If you are new to focus group research, think quality rather than quantity for participants and content, listen for the ranges of thought, and you will be ready.

Want to know more about how the how and why of focus groups? Please send me a note. I’m happy to talk with you.

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