21 Mar '14

Focus groupNext week I’ve been invited to host part of a University’s lecture program in market research which will find me in front of 200 marketing students running a live focus group demo.

Now this is quite a bit different from the usual focus group setting– big audience, no clients, less time and loads more responsibility to demonstrate some best practice.

What I like is that it’s a chance for the students to view a ‘mock group’ well before they need to contract one or perhaps even run one themselves.

So far I’ve been thinking about the usual way a researcher runs groups (or think they should be run) and whether we should challenge some of these norms that are ‘accepted practice’ and rarely questioned.

In no particular order I’m thinking these questions through along with lots of others:


  • Group size – It appears the universal maxim is 3-4 groups of 8 respondents; that’s ‘normal’.  Is it really?  Some of my groups with the tiniest turn out have been really really good which I’ve put down to less numbers = more openness


  • The 90-minute group seems to be the gold standard.  But should it be that way? If the conversation dries up because there is not a lot to say is this in fact a problem? Isn’t this just part of the findings?


  • What style of facilitation I should demonstrate ? the ‘high energy’  facilitator approach some prescribe to and oft request or is it better to sink into your chair as a more subtle researcher and observe more than direct?


  • Air time (across the group)– Do you  need to hear from everyone?  Maybe some people don’t not much to say and that’s OK.


  • And quite a big question–  How ‘real’ is the information we retrieve? Focus groups use an intense spotlight to examine all the hidden facets of a concept or issue. Is this just seeing things in artificial light?


I really should prepare for all of these with a very good answer for the last one … just in case.