Introduction conduction of the focus group – roles

 

Introduction

“Qualitative
research is a research strategy that usually emphasizes words rather than
quantification in the collection and analysis of data.” (Bryman, 2016: 374)
Focus group belongs under the group of qualitative research methods and their
focus is on the verbal aspect of the collected data rather than the quantity of
the collected data. This essay will discuss what focus groups are, their
history, conduction of the focus group – roles in the focus group research, applications
in the research and main focus will be on the strengths and weaknesses of the
focus group research method.

What are focus groups

The
focus group is a qualitative research method, which consists of chosen group of
interviewees and a moderator, who is interviewing the group. (Bryman, 2016)
There are more types of group research, for example group interviews, which are
similar to focus groups. The difference between those is, that the reliance in a
focus group is on an interaction within the group and people’s preferences and
thoughts rather than an alternation between a researcher´s questions and the
research participant´s responses (Morgan, 1996, Lanz, 2017). Another difference
is, as Krueger and Casey suggested, the goal of a focus group and goal of the
other group methods. Focus groups collect data, which is applicable to the
research topic and leaves the discussion with an open-ended response, however
the other group interactions need to compose a conclusion at the end of the
discussion (2015).

The beginning of
the Focus groups

Focus
group has been used as a qualitative research method since 1941 as a result of
Paul Lazarsfield’s and Robert Merton’s interviews, individual or in small
groups, focusing on the effect that wartime propaganda had on people. (Morgan,
1996) Later on it became popular in the Advertising Industry and Austrian
psychologist Ernest Dichter used the term “focus group” for the first time
(Lanz, 2017).

Uses of Focus groups

We
differentiate three main uses of focus groups in current social science
research. They are: self-contained method, supplementary source of data and
multimethod. When used as a self-contained method, focus group are the primary
source of data. As a supplementary source of data, focus group is being used to
support other research method usually quantitative, to give more depth to the
research. As a multimethod it is used in combination with other methods, where
neither of them is the primary source (Morgan,1996).

Focus
groups are used for research that needs, opinions, ideas or feelings about the
topic (Krueger and Casey, 2015).

Focus groups in
Marketing research

Marketing
research is being used for many years. It studies issues which are caused in
the transfer, sale of goods or services from the producer to the consumer along
with the relationship between them (White, 1940). Marketers or producers have
different insight on the goods or services that they are selling than the
consumers. Focus groups help to give this consumer insight to the marketers. It
does not give them the number of sales, but it gives them the objective on the
people that are buying their products/services (Lanz, 2017). This helps the marketers
in terms of better understanding of their customers, which then helps them
better target the advertisements or the products itself. When using the focus
group method for marketing research, the researcher must be aware of the
consumer experience (Puchta and Potter,2004). This helps to make the research
more effective and easier for the researcher to understand and lead the
interviewees discussions. Focus groups are often used for the consumer research
and audience research.

Conducting focus group

Focus
groups consist of interviewees (group of chosen people), moderator (person
doing the interview, which does not have to be the researcher), a person or
people responsible for recording the session, a person or people responsible
for transcribing the session.

Selecting participants

The
focus group is a very flexible research method; therefore, anyone can
participate in the focus group interview on the condition that the topic is
relevant to them (Bryman, 2016). In case of a sensitive topic, for example,
sexual topics, of the research it is crucial to pick people who do not know
each other rather than acquaintances, colleagues, friends or family members.
Usually people tend to be shy in front of their acquaintances when talking
about such topics. Sometimes the researcher itself might be participating in
the interview. People might be influenced by the researcher and he or she can
observe participant´s emotions, which is also an important factor in focus
groups.

Moderator

The
role of a moderator is important and responsible. The moderator must know how
to balance empathy and objectivity at the same time (Stewart and Shamdasani,
1990). He or she also must be communicative, be aware and understand the topic,
be able to listen without personal reactions and be respectful towards the
participants (Krueger and Casey, 2015).

The
moderator has to both let the discussion be free and open, and highlight
important issues. Also, he or she must encourage shy participants and on the
other hand politely limit the dominating participants. The moderator needs to
prepare questions for the interview beforehand, but if there is an opportunity
during the discussion he should be ready to take it and make new questions on
the spot.

In
general, the moderator has to manage the focus group interview in the way that
from the strengths and weaknesses discuss below, only the strengths would
apply.

Recording and
transcribing

Focus
groups sound as a simple method when they are defined as a group interview, but
there is more work to them than just the interview. The whole discussion is
recorded and then needs to be transcribed. The transcript of the focus group is
“a word-for-word written record of the focus group discussion, based on the
audio recording.” (Krueger and Casey, 2015:150) The transcripts are crucial part
of the research, the analysis is built upon them, thus it needs to be written
precisely. It is important to stress that participants always have to give
permission to being recorded, both for audio and video recording. The whole
transcription process might take 4 times longer than the interview itself, that
is why “some researchers may prefer to have a research assistant or pay someone
else to transcribe the focus group interview.” (Liamputtong, 2011:166)

Strengths and weaknesses

As
every research method, quantitative or qualitative, focus groups have strengths
as well as weaknesses. In case of focus groups, the strengths could be weaknesses
at the same time depending from which perspective they are looked at.

Strengths

Focus
groups being a group interview produce the data for research much faster than the
individual interviews, therefore they also cost less (Stewart and Shamdasani,
1990). Another strength of the focus group method connected with it being a
“group method” would be it´s allowance to a group thinking. Sometimes it is
hard for people to verbally produce their ideas or views on the topic. As focus
group consists of a group of people it allows them to interact with each other,
discuss the topic in depth and even to discard opinions. This interaction
between the participants allows them to build on thoughts of other
participants. For some it can lead to deeper thinking and in the end to be more
effective in the focus group and producing ideas they would not come up with in
the individual interview.

The
participants for each focus group are chosen according to the topic, which
should be of their interest, which allows participants to share their opinions in
their own words (Puchta and Potter, 2004).

As
Stewart and Shamdasani stated, focus groups are a flexible method, which means
they could be used for a research with a broad spectrum of topic, as well as
with participants of any age or education as long as the topic is of their
interest (1990).

Lastly,
a big role in focus group research plays the researcher itself and “focus group
allow the researcher to interact directly with respondents” (Stewart and
Shamdasani,1990:16). This interaction creates opportunities for the researcher
to ask questions that he comes up with on the spot or to ask for better
explanation of interviewee´s response. Thus, it helps make the research more
qualitative.

Weaknesses

As
we have discussed above, strengths and weaknesses of focus groups are highly
connected, which means that we can negotiate the strengths listed above to
create a weakness. Focus groups are fast and cheap, but can be very hard to
organize (Bryman, 2016). There is need of space, time, people and it can be
hard to find and organize these needs to work perfectly together. Sometimes
people might not show up and focus group without people or with a small group
of people does not have the same results.

Listening
to other people’s opinions and ideas can help people think more about the topic
and come up with their own unique ideas, but on the other hand it can also
limit the thinking if the person is a strong leader. In that case, the more
introvert orientated, shy or weaker members of the group can use opinions of
the leading member or the one that spoke before them. This is not good for the
researchers because they are not getting real opinions but one that is copied,
therefore the results of the research are not true but modified. It is always
important to share our own opinions and thoughts and not to be afraid of
sharing it, because of someone with a stronger personality. Another weakness in
a group of people is that they can speak at the same time, which makes it
harder to understand who is saying what (Bryman, 2016) and harder to transcribe
later in the transcription process.

Interaction
between the moderator and interviewees may lead to bias results by moderator
providing suggestions about the desired answers (Stewart and Shamdasani, 1990).
This could lead to untrue results. The discussion in focus groups can last
approximately two hours, but collecting the data, transcribing and analysing it
might take up to 10 hours.

Conclusion

This
essay has discussed the focus groups brief definition and comparison with group
interviews, which is a similar research method. The history which is dated to
the time of the World War 2, and we have outlined the roles of participants in
the focus group method. Lastly, we have discussed with attention to the detail the
strengths and weaknesses. We can say that focus groups have its limitations. No
one can ever predict how will each focus group go, because of its free and
open-ended discussion, thence this research method would not be suitable for
every research. It is also essential to pick the right participants for each
topic, to make the research more effective. In conclusion, the focus group is a
qualitative method with both strengths and weaknesses, very popular in the marketing
research.