10 Things to remember when viewing focus groups

1. One group alone doesn’t necessarily have the answer

Good research means speaking to different potential markets. The people in the group you’re watching might be saying something completely different to the one before it. Remember that one session is never giving you the full picture.

2. The introductions section is not just a warm up

The introductions and opening conversation are more than just a pre-amble to get everyone comfortable. This is a crucial section which tells us who these people are and how they are different from one another.

3. Babble does not equal value

Not all chatter is useful. Often a silent group are just taking time over their responses and they’re engaging thoughtfully with what’s being shown. A noisy group might just be filling the silence.

4. You only get part of the data from behind the glass

When viewing focus groups you can hear what people say but you can’t feel what they mean. The moderator can gauge people’s passion or disinterest because s/he’s in the room, but this isn’t easy to pick up through a one-way mirror.

5. Don’t listen for what you want to hear

‘It’s a nice idea’ is a world away from enthusiastic interest. Often respondents can tell you an idea is good (which is nice to hear if you agree with them) but in reality they’re just paying polite interest. A better test is if they’re engaging with the idea and thinking of ways to improve it.

6. A strong yes can be better than 7 maybes

Does one respondent love an idea that the others are lukewarm on? Remember there are thousands more like him or her that may have the exact same opinion.

7. Loud respondents can be useful, not obstructive

Focus groups provide new information through interaction. If the moderator is allowing a respondent to be loud it’s because what he’s saying might be useful, or might prompt valuable discussion.

8. It’s not the moderator’s job to correct respondent mistakes

The moderator is there to understand how a person came to their conclusions. If a respondent says something that’s incorrect, the value is in finding out how or why they reached that conclusion, not to point out if they’re mistaken.

9. Don’t take responses at face value

Remember some respondents are always hard to please, others are more enthusiastic by default. Good research means putting their answers into context and interpreting their responses.

10. An obvious question can give surprising answers

Remember we’re making people examine things they normally do without thinking. Often this means they give irrational, self-contradictory answers to explain why ‘they’ve just always done it that way’ – getting past this gives revealing data that allows us to find what they feel, not just what they think.

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