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Qualitative Research Methods : Focus Groups

    Qualitative Research Methods

    Typical qualitative methods include behavioral observation, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and social listening. Each of these methods is described below.

    Focus Groups

    A group of students at desks listening.

    Focus groups are much like in-depth interviews, except that they involve small groups (usually 6–12 individuals) rather than one person at a time. Like in-depth interviews, focus groups also try to delve deeply into topics of interest with people whose perspectives the researchers want to understand better. Focus groups have the added benefit of inviting peers to talk to one another about the topics in question, so the researchers hear not just one individual’s views but also listen to and observe the group’s interactions.

    Whereas in-depth interviews are fairly short, focus groups tend to be longer, running 60–90 minutes, on average. It takes more time to hear from multiple people weighing in on a topic and to build an insightful group dynamic during the discussion. Focus groups tend to be expensive because each person receives an incentive for their time and participation. Audio or video recording and transcription are often preferred, so as to capture information for later reference.

    It can be difficult to control the group dynamic in focus groups: sometimes one or a few people dominate the discussion while others hang back. “Groupthink” can be a problem when a charismatic participant manages to persuade others to adopt his way of thinking instead of allowing the full range of opinions to come to light. For these reasons, focus groups require skilled facilitators who are good at listening, managing time, steering the discussion, and keeping people on track. Focus group facilitators must also scrupulously avoid biasing participants with their own views, in order to ensure that the information captured accurately represents customer views.

    The following video satire shows some of the challenges in conducting focus groups effectively and why a skilled facilitator isn’t always enough:

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