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What is a focus group?

A focus group is a research technique used to collect data through group interaction. The group comprises a small number of carefully selected people who discuss a given topic. Focus groups are used to identify and explore behaviour, attitudes and processes, and they throw light on why, what and how questions.

Explanation of a focus group

They can be used in three ways in the research design:

  • Stand alone - where the focus groups are the sole data collection method and they serve as the principal source of data
  • Supplementary - used to enhance alternative means of data collection. Typically this would be as a precursor to a quantitative stage – determining the issues to be covered in the structured interviewing and giving insights into the problems or opportunities that are being researched
  • As part of a multi method design - where studies use several sources of data collection and no one method determines the use of the others

When focus groups are used as the sole source of data, the objectives will be explorative and diagnostic - what is the problem, how can we solve it, and how will the market react? When it is important to also get a fix on the number of people that think or behave one way or the other, a multi method design will be required with a quantitative stage to follow.

Group discussions are especially useful for researching new products, testing new concepts or determining "what would happen if?” They work because delegates can digest the points raised by other members and, as they consider the implications of issues raised, further ideas may be sparked off which would remain untapped in a personal interview.

Typical applications for focus groups are:

  • To unravel complex processes from the basics e.g. a complicated buying process
  • To identify customer needs i.e. where there is a complex interaction of factors influencing motives
  • To identify how products are used
  • To test new products i.e. where something needs showing to people
  • To explore a concept, perhaps with stimulus aids so that people can visualise what it would look like
  • To explore and identify issues of satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) for customers, staff or suppliers
  • To explore perceptions of brand and service elements associated with the brand

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