At Nottingham Spirk (NS), our Insights team fields a lot of questions from client partners who are interested in hosting their own focus groups. Questions range from logistics to session design, developing interview guides to moderating. How long a focus group should last is one question that often surfaces. While time is a consideration as you plan your sessions, this should not be the primary question at hand. It is critical to take a step back to ensure that a focus group is the most appropriate method in support of your objective.
Focus groups can be a dynamic and efficient format for gaining a range of perspectives on a particular topic, product or experience. The objective of the research and its subject plays an important role in determining the best method. The benefits of focus groups include gaining a multitude of perspectives at the same time (as compared to one-on-one interviews, dyads or triads), building energy and interaction from the group, and the ability to compare and contrast unique perspectives, to name a few.
As a rule of thumb, focus groups should involve approximately 6-8 participants, be a minimum of 90 minutes and not exceed 2 hours. After 2 hours, participants can grow fatigued, resulting in lower energy and quality of feedback. Our client partners depend on this feedback to make critical business decisions—and the role of the moderator is significant in managing this process.
It would be a mistake not to mention the many other considerations that go along with designing a focus group. Before you get to the focus group session and the clock starts, hopefully you’ve considered the following:
1. Be prepared to get something meaningful out of everyone in the room.
Group dynamics are a funny phenomenon. In focus groups especially, the moderator must be hyper vigilant to ensure that each voice is heard. It can be common for some participants to be more vocal than others, and it is essential to keep this in check. Alternatively, it is not always necessary for every participant to elicit a response to every question.
2. Empathy is your best friend.
Participants are the experts—and understanding their vantage points is imperative. Create conditions that make them feel empowered. Spend time building rapport with each participant to enhance comfort and ease. Their perspective is the hero. Highly skilled moderators have the ability to effortlessly guide the group, often through body language and even without words. Eye contact matters.
3. Avoid burdening participants with designing the solution.
Let’s say you are testing a new product idea and have designed a focus group to gain feedback. You set a prototype on the table in front of the participants—while tempting to ask for specific product changes, remember that research participants are not product designers. Instead, focus on understanding their underlying needs, motivations and desired experiences. Try to dissect the why behind what they say, how they behave and the way they interact.
4. It is NOT about you—the moderator.
In a focus group, the moderator’s language, verbal tone and gesture can influence participants and the data received. While it may be tempting (and even natural) for a moderator to provide an affirming response to a participant’s perspective, it is critical to remain unbiased in language and action. Moderators should be neutral facilitators without exuding any form of judgment or preference.
5. A focus group may not be the best research method.
Sometimes a focus group sounds like a brilliant idea, but that is not always the case. What’s led you to this point? If you are seeking prescriptive, quantifiable feedback, a focus group might not be the right research method. In fact, focus groups in isolation rarely are the best way to conduct research. Instead, NS recommends leveraging focus groups as one part of a more comprehensive insights program. Focus groups are qualitative in nature, meant to guide and inspire. When coupled with quantitative studies, like surveys, the outcome is often more strategically relevant and impactful.
Focus groups are more complex than they may seem—considerable time and effort is required in careful preparation, facilitation and follow up data analysis and synthesis. Certain products and experiences are not appropriate for focus group discussion. If you are considering designing and moderating one of your own, think about enlisting experts to support your objective. The NS Insights team is made up of RIVA-certified focus group moderators and trained market research experts. But the true value of working with NS lies in our interdisciplinary approach to insights: we bring a seasoned team of industrial designers, engineers, prototypers and product marketers to the table to weigh in on all Insights’ activities, including focus groups. The cross-functional result is extremely powerful, and this is why we can boast a 95% commercialization rate for products designed and co-developed by NS and our partners.
For more information on Nottingham Spirk’s Insights’ process or with help designing a focus group, do not hesitate to contact us.