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Focus group

Focus group

Overview
A focus group is a form of qualitative research
Qualitative research
Qualitative research is a method of inquiry employed in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences, but also in market research and further contexts. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern such...

 in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging. Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where participants are free to talk with other group members.
The first focus groups were created at the Bureau of Applied Social Research
Bureau of Applied Social Research
The Bureau of Applied Social Research was a social research institute at Columbia University which specialised in mass communications research. It grew out of the Radio Research Project at Princeton University, beginning in 1937. The Bureau's first director was Austrian sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld...

 in the USA, by associate director, sociologist Robert K. Merton
Robert K. Merton
Robert King Merton was a distinguished American sociologist. He spent most of his career teaching at Columbia University, where he attained the rank of University Professor...

.
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Encyclopedia
A focus group is a form of qualitative research
Qualitative research
Qualitative research is a method of inquiry employed in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences, but also in market research and further contexts. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern such...

 in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging. Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where participants are free to talk with other group members.
The first focus groups were created at the Bureau of Applied Social Research
Bureau of Applied Social Research
The Bureau of Applied Social Research was a social research institute at Columbia University which specialised in mass communications research. It grew out of the Radio Research Project at Princeton University, beginning in 1937. The Bureau's first director was Austrian sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld...

 in the USA, by associate director, sociologist Robert K. Merton
Robert K. Merton
Robert King Merton was a distinguished American sociologist. He spent most of his career teaching at Columbia University, where he attained the rank of University Professor...

. The term itself was coined by psychologist and marketing expert Ernest Dichter
Ernest Dichter
Ernest Dichter was an American-based psychologist and marketing expert who is often considered to be the "father of motivational research."...

.

In marketing


In the world of marketing
Marketing
Marketing is the process used to determine what products or services may be of interest to customers, and the strategy to use in sales, communications and business development. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business developments...

, focus groups are seen as an important tool for acquiring feedback regarding new products, as well as various topics. In particular, focus groups allow companies wishing to develop, package, name, or test market a new product, to discuss, view, and/or test the new product before it is made available to the public. This can provide invaluable information about the potential market acceptance of the product.

Focus Group is an interview, conducted by a trained moderator among a small group of respondents. The interview is conducted in an unstructured and natural way where respondents are free to give views from any aspect.

In social sciences


In the social sciences
Social sciences
Social science is the field of study concerned with society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences usually exclusive of the administrative or managerial sciences...

 and urban planning
Urban planning
Urban planning incorporates areas such as economics, design, ecology, sociology, geography, law, political science, and statistics to guide and ensure the orderly development of settlements and communities....

, focus groups allow interviewers to study people in a more natural setting than a one-to-one interview. In combination with participant observation
Participant observation
Participant observation is a type of research strategy. It is a widely used methodology in many disciplines, particularly, cultural anthropology, but also sociology, communication studies, and social psychology...

, they can be used for gaining access to various cultural and social groups, selecting sites to study, sampling of such sites, and raising unexpected issues for exploration. Focus groups have a high apparent validity
Validity
In logic, argument is valid if and only if its conclusion is entailed by its premises, a formula is valid if and only if it is true under every interpretation, and an argument form is valid if and only if every argument of that logical form is valid....

 - since the idea is easy to understand, the results are believable. Also, they are low in cost, one can get results relatively quickly, and they can increase the sample size of a report by talking with several people at once.

In usability engineering


In the Usability engineering
Usability engineering
Usability engineering is a field that is concerned generally with human-computer interaction and specifically with making human-computer interfaces that have high usability or user friendliness...

, focus group is a survey method to collect the views of users on a software or website. This marketing method can be applied to computer products to better understand the motivations of users and their perception of the product. Unlike other methods of ergonomics
Ergonomics
Ergonomics is the study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body, its movements, and its cognitive abilities.The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics as follows:...

, focus group implies several participants: users or future users of the application. The focus group can only collect subjective data, not objective data on the use of the application as the usability test for example.

Types of focus groups


Variants of focus groups include:
  • Two-way focus group - one focus group watches another focus group and discusses the observed interactions and conclusion
  • Dual moderator focus group - one moderator ensures the session progresses smoothly, while another ensures that all the topics are covered
  • Dueling moderator focus group - two moderators deliberately take opposite sides on the issue under discussion
  • Respondent moderator focus group - one and only one of the respondents are asked to act as the moderator temporarily
  • Client participant focus groups - one or more client representatives participate in the discussion, either covertly or overtly
  • Mini focus groups - groups are composed of four or five members rather than 6 to 12
  • Teleconference focus groups - telephone network is used
  • Online focus group
    Online focus group
    An online focus group is one type of focus group, and is a sub-set of online research methods.-Background:A moderator invites prescreened, qualified respondents who represent the target of interest to log on to conferencing software at a pre-arranged time and to take part in an online focus group....

    s
    - computers connected via the internet are used


Traditional focus groups can provide accurate information, and are less expensive than other forms of traditional marketing research
Marketing research
Marketing research is "the function that links the consumer, customer, and public to the marketer through information — information used to identify and define marketing opportunities and problems; generate, refine, and evaluate marketing actions; monitor marketing performance; and improve...

. There can be significant costs however : if a product is to be marketed on a nationwide basis, it would be critical to gather respondents from various locales throughout the country since attitudes about a new product may vary due to geographical considerations. This would require a considerable expenditure in travel and lodging expenses. Additionally, the site of a traditional focus group may or may not be in a locale convenient to a specific client, so client representatives may have to incur travel and lodging expenses as well.

Benefits/strengths of focus group discussions

  • Group discussion produces data and insights that would be less accessible without interaction found in a group setting—listening to others’ verbalized experiences stimulates memories, ideas, and experiences in participants. This is also known as the group effect where group members engage in “a kind of ‘chaining’ or ‘cascading’ effect; talk links to, or tumbles out of, the topics and expressions preceding it” (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002, p. 182)
  • Group members discover a common language to describe similar experiences. This enables the capture of a form of “native language” or “vernacular speech” to understand the situation
  • Focus groups also provide an opportunity for disclosure among similar others in a setting where participants are validated. For example, in the context of workplace bullying
    Workplace bullying
    Workplace bullying, like childhood bullying, is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behaviour against a co-worker or subordinate. Workplace bullying can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation...

    , targeted employees often find themselves in situations where they experience lack of voice and feelings of isolation. Use of focus groups to study workplace bullying therefore serve as both an efficacious and ethical venue for collecting data (see, e.g., Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, & Alberts, 2006)

Problems and criticism


Focus groups are "One shot case studies" especially if they are measuring a property-disposition relationship within the social sciences, unless they are repeated. Focus groups can create severe issues of external validity, especially the reactive effects of the testing arrangement. A fundamental difficulty with focus groups (and other forms of qualitative research
Qualitative research
Qualitative research is a method of inquiry employed in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences, but also in market research and further contexts. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern such...

) is the issue of observer dependency: the results obtained are influenced by the researcher, raising questions of validity.

Another issue is with the setting itself. If the focus groups are held in a laboratory setting with a moderator who is a professor and the recording instrument is obtrusive, the participants may either hold back on their responses and/or try to answer the moderator's questions with answers the participants feel that the moderator wants to hear. Another issue with the focus group setting is the lack of anonymity. With all of the other participants, there can not be any guarantee of confidentiality. Again we have to deal with the issues of the reactive effects of the testing arrangement (See above).

Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff is an American media theorist, writer, columnist, lecturer, graphic novelist and documentarian. He is best known for his association with the early cyberpunk culture, and his advocacy of open source solutions to social problems.Rushkoff is most frequently regarded as a media...

 argues that focus groups are often useless, and frequently cause more trouble than they are intended to solve, with focus groups often aiming to please rather than offering their own opinions or evaluations, and with data often cherry picked to support a foregone conclusion. Rushkoff cites the disastrous introduction of New Coke
New Coke
New Coke was the reformulation of Coca-Cola introduced in 1985 by The Coca-Cola Company to replace the original formula of its flagship soft drink, Coca-Cola...

 in the 1980s as a vivid example of focus group analysis gone bad. In addition there is anecdotal evidence of focus groups rebelling, for instance the name for the Ford Focus, was created by a focus group which had grown bored and impatient and the irony of this was not picked up by the marketing team.

Jonathan Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of industrial design, also said that Apple had found a good reason not to do focus groups : "They just ensure that you don’t offend anyone, and produce bland inoffensive products."

United States government use of focus groups


The United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 federal government makes extensive use of focus groups to assess public education materials and messages for their many programs. While many of these are appropriate for the purpose, many others are reluctant compromises which federal officials have had to make as a result of studies independent of whether a focus group is the best or even appropriate methodology.

Focus groups in art


Swedish artist Måns Wrange has used the concept of the focus group in his work The Good Rumor Projecthttp://www.manswrange.com. In this instance the focus group situation is used not only as a means to investigate the opinions of the group members, but also to spread an idea (the rumor) across society with the help of the group members.

See also

  • Coolhunting
    Coolhunting
    Coolhunting is a term coined in the early 1990s referring to a new breed of marketing professionals, called coolhunters. It is their job to make observations and predictions in changes of new or existing cultural trends...

  • Comparison of usability evaluation methods
    Comparison of usability evaluation methods
    Source: Genise, Pauline. “Usability Evaluation: Methods and Techniques: Version 2.0” August 28, 2002. University of Texas.-See also:* Usability inspection* *Partial concurrent thinking aloud...

  • Crowd manipulation
    Crowd manipulation
    Crowd manipulation is the intentional use of techniques based on the principles of crowd psychology to engage, control, or influence the desires of a crowd in order to direct its behavior toward a specific action. This practice is common to politics and business and can facilitate the approval or...

  • Enterprise Feedback Management
    Enterprise Feedback Management
    Enterprise feedback management is a system of processes and software that enables organizations to centrally manage deployment of surveys while dispersing authoring and analysis throughout an organization...

     (EFM)
  • Innovation game
    Innovation game
    The phrase innovation game refers to a form of primary market research developed by Luke Hohmann where customers play a set of directed games as a means of generating feedback about a product or service. The research is primary because the data collected is gathered directly from customers or...

  • Customer advisory council
    Customer advisory council
    A Customer Advisory Council is a form of market research whereby a group of existing customers is convened on a regular basis to advise company management on industry trends, business priorities, and strategic direction...

  • Urtak
    Urtak
    Urtak is a free collaborative public opinion website founded in 2008. An urtak survey can be created by any individual for his or her community. The users of an urtak survey can add questions of their own to the survey, as well as answer questions that have been asked by other users...

  • Usability engineering
    Usability engineering
    Usability engineering is a field that is concerned generally with human-computer interaction and specifically with making human-computer interfaces that have high usability or user friendliness...


External links