Top five tips for running a focus group

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Posted by Johan van der Steen on 30 Oct, 2017

Here at Future Platforms, we often run a focus group during our research process to gather opinions and experiences on a specific service, product or topic.

Following our last two focus groups in Bristol and Manchester for a B2C transportation client, I want to give you five key (but not obvious) tips to remember.


#1 Call your participants the day before

People may forget and sometimes need a gentle reminder; my first piece of advice is to remember to call the participants the day before the focus group to confirm their attendance (or ask your recruitment agency to do so).

It is also a great way to introduce yourself before meeting in person and to confirm the location, time and any other additional information.

You should also consider recruiting a couple of extra participants as last-minute drop-offs are very common.


#2 Prepare a script

Prepare a loose script in which you have listed the main structure of the discussion and a selection of questions you can ask for each task or topic. This will help to focus the group by giving a structure to the session, but remember to let the participants drive the discussion.

This approach will create a more relaxed environment compared to a typical ‘Question/Answer’ scenario and people who are normally shy are likely to find this approach easier to actively participate in.


#3 You can learn a lot from a variety of participants

Scenario: You are researching the possibility of introducing a new digital payment method that will completely remove cash payments.

Approximately 5 minutes into the session, you’re told by the person who has the latest smartphone, that she did not have the app installed on her device because she did not know how to do so.

Do not panic but listen to them – you can learn a lot from people who aren’t as “tech-savvy”, especially if they are not your primary target.


#4 Record the session (and ask for consent)

Even if you have other people in the room carefully taking notes while you are facilitating the session, my recommendation is to record the session so you can re-listen to and better analyse the session during the analysis phase.

You can record the video, the audio or you can use an app like TranscribeMe or oTranscribe which provides fast transcription on the go.

Also, photos and short clips make a great addition to any findings documented; seeing what you did can be really effective when feeding back to the client!

Remember, it is very important to make sure all the participants are comfortable with being recorded, so get them to sign a consent form).


#5 Be human

The main job of the facilitator is to make sure everyone in the room feels comfortable.

Help quiet people to take part in the conversation and keep an eye on people who may threaten group dynamics. Introduce yourself to the group by speaking about personal topics and remember to do an ice-breaker exercise at the beginning to establish a friendly, trusting environment for the session.

The icebreaker might be something formal, in which everyone introduces him/herself by telling three main interests/characteristics about themselves (e.g. My name is Marzia, I am Italian, I like cycling and I have 2 cats, one black and one white) or perhaps something more interactive like a team-building exercise. For example, you can ask the participants to line themselves up in order of how close they live to the research facility that they are currently in. 


Some of these tips can be forgotten during the planning phase of a focus group. However, by remembering to use those mentioned above, you’ll be able to create a relaxed environment for your participants, whilst also gaining as much information as possible.

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