Tips for FOCUS GROUPS: From Personal Experience!
This semester I am taking Public Relations Research with Urkovia Andrews. It has been our responsibility to aid the Office of Environmental Sustainability in conducting research toward Georgia Southern University implementing a tobacco-free initiative on campus. We have been dissecting scholarly articles, distributing surveys to students/faculty/staff, and hosting in-depth focus groups….
Focus groups — hmm, about that.
Here are some HELPFUL tips that I can give to future researchers! They will help you a GREAT deal! Trust me 🙂 If I ever have to conduct a focus group again, I will also be using these things-to-remember:
- Make sure you SECURE definite focus group participants ahead of time! We were required to have at least four participants attend our focus group, but unfortunately only one showed up. After an hour of frantically searching the student union and stalking potentials for last-minute volunteers, we managed to find four definite participants (thank God)! And since this focus group was not on their agenda until last minute, they had other plans immediately after so we had to cut our focus group questions short for the convenience of our participants. So PLEASE make sure you have definite people. Have them RSVP ahead of time and even send them a reminder the night before.
- If you are required to record audio/video of the focus group discussion, make sure you test your devices beforehand and maybe even use more than one recording device as we all know that technology can not be depended on! We used a flip-cam, a tape recorder, and a laptop to record our audio. ALSO, make sure you ask the participants to speak up loud enough that the audio can be transcribed easily. We had trouble afterward trying to figure out what people were saying — sometimes they were talking too low, sometimes they were all talking at the same time, and sometimes a cough or movement muffled the voice as well.
- If you have a supervisor, professor, or a director asking you to conduct this research, be sure to get the focus group questions approved by them beforehand. They might want to make changes or give suggestions.
- Be sure to give a really good pause after each participant’s response. The pause will let them know that they can continue to elaborate on their answer. The more info they give, the better it is for your client. The pause will also give other participants the opportunity to respond with their own opinions. Unfortunately, since the people we had at our focus group had to rush to meetings or go home, we had to make sure we did not run over our time. So good pauses were not given.
- Make the participants feel COMFORTABLE! Dress professional enough..but not so fancy and formal that the participants feel intimidated (depending of course upon on what type of participant pool you have for your research). Be conversational, but remember not to lose your professionalism. You are representing your client. Before beginning the focus group questions, use an ice-breaker to loosen up your participants. The more comfortable they are, the more they are willing to speak up on their opinions and to speak truthfully. This leads to more quality information for your client.
- If you are not given a budget to compensate the participants, get together with your research committee beforehand, as you may want to provide refreshments for the particpants during the discussion. We brought waters, sodas, a vegetable tray with ranch dip, and chocolate chip cookies for ours, and they sure enjoyed it! This is also a good way to lure potential participants when you are scouting for them. Who doesn’t like free food? And you better believe that we used this to hook our last-minute biters!
- To decrease your chances for a biased group of people, look for participants in a WIDE variety of places. For instance, if you are researching a topic dealing with music genres, don’t look primarily at country bars or mainly scout at jazz clubs. Also go to different instrument shops, music majors, a variety of radio stations, student organizations for music-lovers, churches, marching bands, etc.!
- SHOW YOUR PARTICIPANTS APPRECIATION! Thank them for their time and efforts!
Have you conducted your own focus group? Please feel free to comment and leave any other tips you can think of from your own personal experiences!