Posted by: bbannan | March 16, 2009

Focus groups – Nancy

My apologies to Nancy for missing this earlier. – Brenda

I found a very helpful online resource that is timely for groups, (like mine) that are planning on conducting a focus group for one of their data collection methods. This resource, entitled “How to Conduct a Focus Group” by Eliot Associates, provides guidelines and checklists to help prepare and facilitate the focus group. It discusses the three types of questions that you should plan beforehand and they include:
1. Engagement questions – These questions help the participants relax and become comfortable with each other so that they will be forthcoming with their feedback.
2. Exploration questions – These questions are geared toward the purpose of the focus group, whatever is being discussed or evaluated.
3. Exit questions – These questions are aimed to get participants to summarize, expound on or prioritize the feedback.
In general, questions should be short, focused, open- ended and non-threatening.

The resource also had good suggestions for the facilitator
on setting ground rules and for conducting the focus group.



  1. Interesting that the first question is rooted in the affective domain. Helping to establish a willingness or desire in the subject(s) to participate, to get beyond simple yes or no answers, in short to open up and share what they feel with those conducting the test. How true it is that you set conditions in the affective domain such that you get the subjects to engage with you in the cognitive domain. Being part of Group 2 I was able to observe firsthand this in a face-to-face focus group, then in an online focus group. In both instances, each with a different facilitator it was evident how this set the subjects at ease, got them talking and even talking between themselves. And this yielded a great deal of important feedback that led to prototype improvements.
    I suppose this is the purpose of small talk in real life. Many times not focused on anything in particular, just getting people accustomed to speaking comfortably with each other, establishing the social context. And this is improved even more with the addition of food, another important component in the social environment. We have all been in situations where the mood was tense, even confrontational. And in these settings we often establish barriers towards others, certainly not the method to gain useful feedback.

  2. My team conducted a focus group in early March. I’m pleased to say that in regards to recruiting, preparing, and conducting the focus group we followed most of the guidelines as put forth in this document. For example, while our group was not a homogeneous group of strangers, they were “all members of the same group” and had similar job titles/roles. This was important because we needed feedback from a group representative of our target audience. In recruiting the participants, the “power” factor was considered. We actually dis-invited one participant (very professionally and politely) because he was, in fact, the boss of the other participants and not actually representative of the target audience. Being that he was “the boss,” we were worried that his participation would possibly inhibit the responses of the others. In addition to following the guidelines for recruiting, our moderator incorporated many of the facilitation techniques the article suggested. For example, she often paraphrased what the respondents had said and elicited elaboration by asking participants to talk more about something or give an example. One idea put forth by the article which I question is the assertion that “it takes more than one focus group on any one topic to produce valid results.” While I agree that additional focus groups would strengthen our findings, I disagree that one focus group does not yield important data. We got a lot of information from our one focus group that has helped us in the design process. Finally, while I feel I can proudly place a “check” in many of the boxes in regards to recruiting, preparing for, and conducting a focus group, I find myself wishing I had seen this document earlier. My team would have benefited from reviewing the sections on analyzing the data as we struggled to code and report our findings in a concise and coherent manner.

  3. Thanks for this information. I found it to be useful even in developing our surveys and follow-up interviews that we used for Round 2 of our User Research.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: