There is both an art and a science to setting up successful focus groups for qualitative market research.
Focus groups are a great way to spend time with participants of a study to probe the “how” and “why”
behind their thinking. A lot of structured dialogue takes place within focus groups, which is why it’s
important to ensure that certain elements are attended to when putting a focus group together. Below
is a quick overview of what makes for a good focus group.
- Keep it small. More isn’t better when it comes to focus group sizes. Keeping a focus group to
between six to ten participants allows all members to participate, and affords the moderator
time to be able to tease out the nuance behind participants’ answers.
- Keep it short. Try not to exceed two hours. The sweet spot seems to be between 1 ½ to 2 hours,
which allows for deeper conversations to take place but doesn’t run too long which can lead to
- Keep it neutral. Don’t hold focus groups in spaces that are easily associated with the company
commissioning the study. This may bias participant responses if they see company logos or
other associations with the subject matter being discussed. Choosing a neutral location that is
convenient to get to and has ample parking is your best bet. Comfortable chairs set up in a
circular pattern around a table is the most ideal set up for a focus group. Try not to set chairs up
in rows, as you want all the participants to be able to easily see each other.
- Focus group composition. What’s most important when recruiting for focus groups is that the
participants are screened for the characteristics required by the study. There is a balance
between homogeneity and diversity within a focus group. Focus groups that are too
homogenous yield similar answers; focus groups that are too diverse make controlling the
- Good planning of the discussion guide is essential. Seasoned market researchers aren’t asking
random questions, they work long and hard developing discussion guides that frame the
questions and have strategies and tools for prompting good discussions. Often, they’ll employ
such techniques as case histories, visualization methods, and free association exercises to get
participants to “think outside the box.” Additionally, moderators should allow time for setting
the ground rules, give an overview of the study and its purpose, tell when breaks (if any) will be
given, and remind participants of privacy and confidentiality.
- Keep it relaxed. Professional moderators work to make sure their participants are at ease and
feel comfortable and safe in opening up and sharing their thoughts. Reminding participants that
there are no right or wrong answers is a good way to make sure participants are self-censoring.
- Ethics and confidentiality matter! Focus groups fall under the category of social science and are
subject to the same ethical protocols of other social science methods. Before the focus group
commences, all participants need to sign a consent form that clearly spells out the scope and
intent of the project and reminds participants that they have the right to withdraw from the
study. Throughout the focus group, participants should be identified only by their first names.
Participants need to be made aware that the moderator and market research team will keep
their information confidential, and ask that participants respect the confidentiality and privacy
of the others. While there is no way to guarantee that all focus group participants will respect
this request, it should be made clear that there is no guarantee surrounding confidentiality.
- Recording the focus group. Most focus groups are recorded in some fashion, whether it’s audio,
video, or both. It’s a bit less intrusive to have a recording device set up in the middle of the
room rather than a video camera. It is not advised to have a focus group recorded by a note
taker. A note taker can’t fully capture the back-and-forth of a focus group conversation, and
sometimes their presence can influence the participants.
- Labeling the data. At the conclusion of the focus group the data should be labeled with the date,
time, and location of the focus group and compiled and managed in accordance with the
Contact us here to see how Focus Insite can help you recruit for your next
market research study.