Moderating Focus Groups – My Experience

Back in the summer of 2015, I attended an MRS training course to learn how to effectively moderate focus groups. I was taught a variety of skills, including how to ensure everyone attending contributes, how to use stimulus to encourage conversation amongst the group, as well as how to work with a discussion guide.

 

Following this course, I was eager to put the skills I learnt into practise in a real focus group. Fortunately I did not have to wait long until I was given that opportunity, as a piece of research came along that allowed me to observe an experienced colleague moderate several groups, before moderating two of my own!

The first thing I have learnt from this learning process is that a lot more work goes into the preparation of a focus group than you may think. It’s not simply a case of turn up at a venue and start chatting to people – a lot of ground work has to be done before even getting to this point. To begin with, recruiters have to be booked out, a venue has to be chosen and the recruitment questionnaire has to be created. Following this, recruitment then takes place and the discussion guide has to be written. Even on the day of the groups, the room has to be prepared; stimulus has to be laid out, recording devices set up and food & drink provided for participants.

Once all of the above has been done and we’re ready for the focus group to start, the real fun begins!

At first I observed Sunita (one of our qualitative experts) moderate a few groups to see how it’s done first hand. It was amazing to see how she quickly built rapport with the participants and how the moderating process seemed to come so naturally, which really helped her to encourage lively discussion and produce valuable insight.

After watching several groups take place, it was my turn to moderate some groups myself. Although the thought of overseeing a large group discussion with a room full of strangers was intimidating at first, once the discussion was underway I found the process to be really enjoyable. I thought that a two hour focus group will feel like it lasted a long time, but I soon realised that the time flies by – to the extent that I was concerned we would not be able to cover all the points in the discussion guide! I found that speaking to people from all walks of life in a group environment was such an exciting way of exploring their thoughts and opinions. The freedom of having an open discussion led to such interesting findings and threw up ideas that would have never crossed my mind before.

Matt Drodge moderating focus groups

One of my focus groups taking place in Cardiff

During the MRS training course, I remember being told that by the end of a group, you will be absolutely shattered – they weren’t lying!! Although moderating a focus group an enjoyable process, it’s equally tiring. Throughout the duration of the group, you have to be completely switched on so that you can respond to emerging topics. You find you ask yourself all sorts of questions:

“Is everyone contributing to the group? How do I make sure this person does not dominate the session? Are we covering all the points in the discussion guide? Are we spending too long discussing a certain point?”

And whilst you’re doing this, you have to ensure you’re listening to all the responses and asking probing questions!

I found my first experience of moderating focus groups to be extremely rewarding. There’s a very steep learning curve and the entire process is hard work, but it’s also extremely enjoyable and most importantly, produces extremely useful research findings.

Matt Drodge is a Research Manager in our Retail & Customer Experience team

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Matt Drodge
01962 842211
Article date - 18/01/2016
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