Focus Groups: Things to Consider
Focus groups are a great way to learn about users’ preferences through group dialogue, but they can also be time-consuming and subject to limitations. Be sure to consider the following when planning focus groups.
- Focus groups should consist of at least three and no more than eight individuals.
- Recruit and schedule more participants (about eight) than needed to account for those who do not show up or cancel at the last minute.
- Organize participants into homogeneous groups, such as similar ages, academic year, major, gender, and the like. Grouping individuals in this way contributes to a more comfortable environment and can encourage people to speak more freely.
- Sessions will need a moderator to facilitate the discussion in the groups. The moderator should be an effective communicator and someone who can build rapport with the participants, encouraging them to speak. Consider using a facilitator who is not closely associated with the spaces, services, or other topics that will be discussed in the focus group. For example, you may want a non-library staff member to lead a focus group about a library’s spaces and services. Having a facilitator removed from the issues for discuss may help the participants share honest feedback.
- Focus groups also need an assistant moderator, who should take detailed notes during the sessions (noting visual cues, body language, and who is speaking when). An assistant moderator may also manage recording the session, and usually has minimal interaction with the group.
- Decide with the research team on how structured the focus group will be, and write a script of questions that will be posed to the group.
- Questions should be structured from general to specific, starting first with a brief ice-breaking question to put the group at ease.
- Questions should be open-ended to generate discussion. Avoid “yes” and “no” questions. Starting questions with “What” or “How” will frequently encourage the most participation from the group.
- The setting where the focus group is conducted should be comfortable, quiet, and free of distractions. Participants should be seated at one table where they can all see each other as well as the moderator. Providing refreshments also helps establish a relaxed atmosphere for participants.
- Six questions will take approximately one hour to cover in a small focus group, so plan questions accordingly and keep track of the time during the sessions.
- IRB approval is necessary when working with human subjects. Work with your institution to apply for the appropriate IRB exemptions and/or approval before working with any participants.