GuidesResearch methodsWhat are focus groups?

What are focus groups?

Last updated

19 January 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Focus groups are a valuable tool for businesses and organizations to gather feedback and insights from a targeted group. The goal of a focus group is to gain a deeper understanding of the participants' attitudes, beliefs, and opinions on your chosen topic.

Using focus groups, businesses and organizations can gain valuable insights to inform decision-making and strategy development.

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What is a focus group?

A focus group is a small, carefully selected group that participates in a moderated discussion or session on a specific topic or issue. The group typically has five to 10 people. Researchers choose participants based on specific criteria, such as demographics, interests, or experiences. 

The goal of a focus group is to gather insights and feedback on a particular topic or issue. A trained facilitator typically moderates and guides the discussion, encouraging the participants to share their thoughts and opinions.

The information and insights from a focus group can be valuable for businesses and organizations in making decisions and developing strategies.

Benefits of focus groups

Focus groups have become a significant part of how businesses make decisions that impact the health of the company. They provide a convenient way to understand the market and the particular stakeholders in the business's decisions. Some of the benefits of focus groups include:

  • Gathering valuable insights and feedback from a targeted group on a specific topic or issue

  • Gaining a deeper understanding of the attitudes, beliefs, and opinions of the participants

  • Providing a platform for participants to share their thoughts and ideas in a group setting

  • Identifying common themes and trends among participants

  • Allowing the exploration of new ideas and potential solutions to problems

  • Providing a cost-effective way to gather information and make decisions

  • Facilitating open and honest communication among participants

  • Offering an opportunity for businesses to engage with their customers and stakeholders

Are focus groups worth it?

Whether or not focus groups are worth it depends on the business’s specific goals and objectives. We've seen the benefits that focus groups can provide, but a company will only realize those if they carefully select and conduct a focus group.

A focus group is not necessarily representative of the broader population. A focus group's opinions and insights may not apply to the general public, customers, or stakeholders. That’s why a researcher must carefully pick a representative sample of the target audience. 

Additionally, focus groups tend to lean toward the more outspoken participant’s opinions. Participants who are more soft-spoken or conflict-averse may have their points of view lost in translation. 

The actual customer sentiment could be lost if the business makes assumptions about the topic or draws conclusions from only part of the group's opinions. This may lead to incorrect, costly decisions. 

In essence, focus groups are a very powerful tool, but businesses must use them correctly to reap the benefits.

The main pillars of a focus group

The main pillars of a focus group are the participants, the moderator, and the discussion guide.

Participants 

These are the people the business selects to participate in the focus group. The business bases its selection on specific criteria, such as demographics, interests, or experiences of the product or services. 

The participants typically represent a diverse range of perspectives related to the topic or issue of discussion.

Moderator 

This person facilitates the discussion. The moderator guides the conversation, encourages participation, and keeps the discussion on track. 

The moderator is usually trained and experienced in conducting focus groups. Having skills in managing group dynamics and facilitating open and honest communication is vital.

Discussion guide

The moderator typically uses this tool to structure the focus group discussion. The discussion guide typically includes questions, topics, instructions, or prompts for the moderator to use during the conversation. The researcher should carefully design the discussion guide to ensure the focus group discussion stays on track and is productive and effective.

The types of focus groups

Different needs require unique approaches. As such, several focus group types have evolved over the years, providing more specialized results to match the desired information. These include:

Traditional focus groups 

These are the most common type of focus group, where a small group of individuals comes together to participate in a moderated discussion on a specific topic or issue. The group typically has 8–10 people.

Online focus groups

These are similar to traditional focus groups, but the discussion takes place online rather than in person. Online focus groups can use various platforms, such as video conferencing software or online discussion forums.

Mini groups 

These are small focus groups of only 4–6 people. Mini groups are ideal for sensitive or personal topics. Businesses can also use mini groups when they need a more in-depth understanding of the participants’ experiences and opinions.

Dual-moderator focus groups

These are focus groups where two moderators facilitate the discussion. This can be useful when the topic or issue is complex or when it is vital to gain perspectives from multiple angles.

Expert focus groups

These are focus groups where the participants are experts or specialists in a particular field. This type of focus group can be useful when a business needs insights and feedback from people with specialized knowledge or expertise.

How to conduct a focus group

Conducting a focus group involves several steps. The specifics will depend on the type of focus group. In general, all focus groups have the following five steps:

1. Identifying the goals and objectives 

Before conducting a focus group, it is important to clearly define the goals and objectives of the discussion. This will ensure the focus group is productive and enable the moderator to design an effective discussion guide.

2. Selecting the participants 

This typically involves defining the criteria for participation and recruiting people who meet those criteria. Selecting a representative group of participants is crucial to ensure the discussion represents a range of perspectives and experiences.

3. Developing the discussion guide 

The discussion guide should include questions or topics, instructions, and prompts for the moderator to use during the discussion. Careful guide design ensures the conversation is productive and extracts all participants' true feelings and thoughts.

4. Conducting the focus group 

During the discussion, the moderator should facilitate the conversation, encouraging participation and keeping the dialog on track. It’s important to create an open and comfortable environment where participants feel free to share their thoughts and opinions.

5. Analyzing and reporting the results

After the focus group, the researcher should analyze and report the results to the business. This typically involves transcribing the discussion and identifying common themes and trends among the participants. 

Example focus group questions

The specific questions you ask will depend on what you want to know, and it's essential to cover all bases of the topic. Here is an example discussion outline:

  • What are your initial opinions on the subject?

  • How does the topic impact you personally?

  • Can you share an experience or example that relates to the topic?

  • How do you feel about the current state of the subject?

  • What are the most critical factors for you regarding the subject?

  • What are your concerns or challenges related to the topic?

  • What are your ideas or suggestions for improving the topic?

  • How should the topic evolve in the future?

  • Do you have any final thoughts or comments?

FAQs

What do focus groups pay?

The amount that focus groups pay varies depending on several factors, such as the length of the focus group, the location, and the complexity of the discussion topic. In general, focus group participants can expect payment in line with their time and effort.

Are focus groups qualitative or quantitative?

Focus groups are a qualitative research method, so the information and insights don’t use numerical data. Instead, the focus group discussion explores the participants’ attitudes, beliefs, and opinions on a specific topic or issue. 

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