Group discussions or focus groups provide for the interaction among participants. They may be conducted online or face-to-face. The group moderator engages with participants, encourages them to communicate with one another, and exchange ideas and comments on each other’s experiences or points of view.
Groups are appropriate for a broad range of topics in marketing and social sciences, including for instance areas relating to brand studies, concept testing and advertising testing that are conducive to interactive discussion. The discussion is led by a moderator who introduces the topic, encourages free flow of ideas and coordinates the discussion.
Conventional focus group discussions, conducted at a research facility or an alternative venue, typically comprise of 6 to 8 respondents, usually last about one and half hours, and are recorded on video/DVD for remote viewing of the proceedings. The research facility is fitted with a large one-way glass window — participants cannot see out, but decision makers and researchers can see in.
For those studies where respondents are hard to recruit, or where the subject matter requires focussed attention, mini group discussions comprising 3–5 respondents per group, lasting about one to two hours are the norm. The smaller group size allows for more in-depth and focussed interaction.
Extended Group Discussions lasting about 2.5 to 3 hours and comprising 6–8 respondents per group are appropriate for more complex or detailed issues that require additional time for evaluation. U&A, exploratory or diagnostic research may require extended groups.
When there is polarization of views on a subject, researchers may adopt Conflict Groups comprising respondents with different attitudes, habits or views on the subject. These groups may also be extended for 2.5 to 3 hours and are best suited for studies where the intent is to force out deep seated feelings on the subject.
Unlike conventional focus groups online groups tend to vary greatly both in size and duration, and are dependent on the online methodology. The duration of discussion boards for instance varies from 2 to 10 days.
While group discussions are the most popular qualitative technique, they do have their downsides. At the individual respondent level, the quantum of information is much less compared to depth interviews. Focus groups also suffer from groupthink, or the desire for harmony and conformity. If unchecked, this can significantly undermine the value derived from the research.
Good moderators are capable of alleviating group pressures and group biases, and drawing out individuals, including passive participants. This once again emphasises the importance of skilled moderators who are capable of managing group dynamics.
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