Focus Groups

Focus groups are a qualitative measure of observation. Qualitative research is when only a few cases are examined, but in great detail. The popularity of focus groups in public relations research is growing. Focus groups are led by a moderator and involve less than 20 participants. Participants are usually picked because of characteristics that are possessed. Before the focus group is held, participants are given a screening questionnaire to insure the qualifications. The moderator has open-ended questions and suggested topics prepared. The prepared items are intended to get the group to discuss opinions of the focus topic. A session can last a few hours and be held almost anywhere. It is best to hold a session in a research facility where the discussion can be monitored. The facility may also support audio and video recording capabilities.

Focus groups have several advantages. A major advantage is that they are quick. It can be put together fast, it is short in length and the data can be analyzed quickly. Another advantage is focus groups are inexpensive. Price can vary depending on moderator fees, participants' fees and facility fees, but a focus group can normally be conducted for less than $1,000. A final advantage is the data provided by the participants. Issues may come up that were not anticipated by the moderator.

However, focus groups are not representative of populations because of the small sample. The spiral of silence is another weakness of focus groups. If one participant is dominant, others in the group might not speak up. The moderator can correct this problem by asking the views of the other participants.

There are 16 steps to conducting a focus group:

  1. Determine if a focus group is appropriate to help satisfy the organizations' information needs.
  2. Spell out the information needs, such as knowledge, predisposition and behavior of target publics. Know how publics will react to the name of organization, public issues, message points and media strategies.
  3. Decide who will moderate. Make sure it is someone with experience who will be able to control the group dynamics and be an active listener.
  4. Schedule the groups on dates and times that will be convenient with participants.
  5. Select a sampling strategy for choosing participants.
  6. Design a screening questionnaire. This will give key information on how to structure the focus groups.
  7. Structure the groups based on views. Two separate focus groups can be conducted, such as one for pro participants and another for anti participants.
  8. Construct a waiting room questionnaire. This will provide more background on participants.
  9. Develop the moderator guide.
  10. Select focus group observers from the organization.
  11. Brief the observers on what the purpose of the focus group is.
  12. Do a facility check.
  13. Check catering arrangements, if providing snacks.
  14. Recruit more participants than needed, because some will not show up.
  15. Moderate the group. Explain that it is informal and that everyone should speak up.
  16. Report the findings. Organize and reduce the data into a useful form.

Created by: Amy Colson
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This site is © April 2001, Amy Colson