Effective focus groups typically comprise of 8-10 respondents and last approximately 1 ½ hours. Any more than this number and they can become difficult to run and control due to group dynamics. For example, with more than 10 or 12 people a group will tend to split into 2 with a leader/ spokesperson for each element.
Effective focus groups are run by an experienced moderator. The moderator introduces topics for discussion and directs and controls the group. The overall aim is to enable the participants to discuss topics as they would like to discuss them. So from their perspective, the discussion should appear to be largely unstructured.
The moderator uses a discussion guide containing the following elements and phases:-
- Outline the objectives of the session
- How a group discussion works is explained to participants
- An agenda of topics to be covered is given
- Participants are prompted to introduce themselves
- This is where the general topic areas to be discussed are covered. This is where most of the time is spent.
- Prompts and stimulus material are used to encourage discussion
- Projective techniques may be used to elicit respondents’ deepest feelings and motivations by getting them to “project” those feelings and motivations into an unstructured and undefined situation (these may include word or picture association, sentence completion, role-play, personification, storytelling and so on).
- Participants are prompted to summarise their understanding of what has been covered and what they see as being the key outputs from their perspective.
- This is where any other comments that each participant would like to add can be captured. Often, one of the richest sources of insight from the group.
Incentives to attend are normally provided. It is usual to undertake at least 3 groups to avoid the danger of atypical responses.