How to organize a focus group discussion?

normal_ryhmakeskustelu_pr.jpgA focus group discussion is a ‘group interview’ with ideally about 6-8 people. It is particularly suitable for testing new ideas, because the group context and informal discussion helps people to make sense of new things. It can also help you to gain a better understanding of the reasons behind people’s action and opinions.

What you need to do: 

Setting up a focus group discussion:

  • Gather a group of people who are willing to discuss the topic.
  • Fix a suitable space for a discussion of about 2 hours.
  • Find a moderator who leads the discussion, and preferably someone else to take notes. (You and your colleagues, perhaps.)
  • Prepare a list of questions or discussion themes (ideally about 3-6) to discuss.

Conducting a focus group discussion:

  • The moderator needs to make it clear to participants why they were invited and how the results of the discussion will be used.
  • The moderator needs to make it clear that the aim is not to reach a consensus view but find as many new viewpoints as possible: “Everyone’s contribution is important”.
  • The moderator needs to make sure that everyone gets to participate and takes turns talking.
  • The moderator can keep the discussion going by asking “Does anyone have any experience with…?” or “What do other people think about this?”.
  • If people find it difficult to talk about ‘large’ issues of principle, it may be easier to start with small things like “how did you like this picture?”

Testing a new concept or idea:

  • You need to present your concept or idea briefly, but clearly and attractively (preferably with some nice material sent before the group discussion).
  • You could start by asking what their own experience is with something related to the topic you are discussing (e.g., what kind of house they have, what kind of lighting they like at home, what type of work they do).
  • You could continue by discussing their problems and needs in relation to activities that are connected to energy saving/efficiency (home heating, office heating, computer use).
  • You could then ask what they made of your concept, what questions and comments they have.
  • Ask what problems they can identify and what improvements they could suggest.
When does it work?: 
  • Focus groups are particularly suitable for testing new ideas, because the group context and informal discussion helps people to make sense of new things.
  • Focus groups can also help you to gain a better understanding of the reasons behind people’s action and opinions.
What do you need to look out for: 
  • Make sure that the most chatty people don't dominate the discussion too much, so that also those who are more quiet or shy get heard.
  • People might be prone to reaching a consensus in focus group situations. That might not reflect their true opinions, so you have to make it clear to everyone participating that you are interested in the diversity of views, and that they can disagree with each other and they don't have to reach a consensus.

Template / Checklist:

Instructions (8 p.) and checklist for focus groups