The Glue in a Focus Group
A successful focus group is a sum of its parts – recruitment, session planning and facilitation with the facilitator being the glue that holds it all together. If you separate out these elements and exclude them from each other, you risk damaging the fluidity and adaptation necessary to run a successful focus group.
When we initially talk to clients about a potential project, we want to know why they want to run research, what they hope to gain and who will be the best participants to ensure their insight is relevant. We cannot talk in isolation about each of these elements.
Getting the right participant profile takes time – there is so much to consider, age, gender, social and economic factors, buying behaviours, beliefs, lifestyle choices, salary, profession, stage of life, aspirations, health status, media use, and so on. Often the client is very clear about their target customer or market and the profiling helps to cement this and give a clear customer brief. However, it’s not unknown that during our initial planning with our clients the ‘who to talk to’ profile gets changed as we drill down into what they actually want to get from the research.
It’s important to challenge the recruitment criteria and explore different consumer groups and behaviours. A profile may not be a good fit in the reality of a changing marketplace and it is part of our job and expertise to question the ‘ideal’ participant and double and triple check that we are getting this bit right.
Session planning/Discussion guides/strategic background
Alongside understanding the participants required is the planning of the session and writing of the discussion guide. This guide is so much more than a list of questions, it’s making sense of all that the clients wants from the research and making this part of a conversation that will be engaging for the specific type of participant that we have. The work and discussion we have during the design of the sessions become crucial to our understanding of the strategic reasons for the groups, how to manage the session, how to improvise or recognise where conversations need to be opened up or closed down.
Facilitation – keep the glue
On the night all of these elements work together- the work put into the participant profiling (and of course our wonderful recruiters who match this for us), the session planning and discussion guide and the strategic understanding of the client’s project. This combination of knowledge means we are as prepared as we can be to do a good job.
Superglue or Pritt Stick?!
We rarely if ever, take on ‘moderation only’ jobs where the session/discussion guides are written by someone else and the groups are already fully recruited. How can we do a good job if we aren’t involved in all the above? It would be a bit like using Pritt stick instead of Superglue – and who would trust a Pritt stick to perform on tough jobs?!