Focus groups are useful research methods for learning about people’s perceptions, beliefs, expectations, opinions, and other qualitative data and anecdotal evidence. Focus groups are typically done with a research moderator meeting with a small group of people (often between 6 and 12 in number) to ask them question about their experiences with or ideas about a product, service, brand, organization, idea, or related topics.

Click on the diagram below to learn the seven steps for effectively conducting focus group research.

How to Conduct Focus Groups

  1. Recruit Participants
    Recruit people who are willing to provide opinions, feelings, and attitudes about your new product, service, brand or idea. Look for people who fit your target audience demographic, who are willing to talk and share, and who you think will work well together (in terms of providing important insights) with others in the focus group. Group should be small, typically fewer than 12 participants.

  2. Establish Recording Method
    Find effective methods for recording what the people say and do. Videorecording is often the best method, but your circumstances and participants may require other means, such as having a note-taker, recording audio only, or jotting down notes yourself (though basic note-taking is typically the least effective.)
    Regardless of method, be sure you record the session well!

  3. Develop a Peer Environment
    Focus groups work best when participants feel comfortable in a non-threatening environment with people they can relate to. Establish an ambiance where participants come to feel like they are peers in some way—that they can relate to each other and that they can feed off of each others’ statements and energy.
  4. Moderate Conversation
    As a researcher, your goal is to function as a moderator that can pull interesting information from your participants. Thoughtfully consider in advance how you can get your participants to reveal what is and is not desirable to them about your product, what their emotions are, where they agree and disagree with each other, what processes they follow to accomplish things, and so forth.

  5. Analyze Data
    As if assembling a puzzle, now review— once participants have left—their statements, facial reactions, nonverbal cues, patterns, and other responses. Pay particular attention to the stories they told, the metaphors they used to describe things, the memories they conjured, and so forth. Begin connecting dots between attitudes, opinions, and feelings and construct a picture of how they feel about the topics you addressed, looking for themes and trends.

  6. Generate Hypothesis
    Once you have analyzed your data and made connections about feelings and opinions, you are in a position to hypothesize what your participants revealed about your product, service, brand, or idea. Your hypothesis isn’t a conclusion, but rather a statement that will likely draw more specific questions. For example, you may learn that your consumers have an adverse reaction to particular term—but now you want to know what else they may be adverse to and why.

  7. Conduct Further Research
    Focus groups are great initial steps into research inquiry, but they rarely should be used on their own as decision-making research. Focus groups lead researchers to ask even more pointed questions, establishing ideas for more effective questionnaires, observation methods, interviews, polls, and other metrics.

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