Guidelines for Moderating Groups

The Do’s and Don'ts:

  • Frequently probe to decipher the inner thoughts and feelings of respondents.
  • Bounce off an individual’s response with rest of the group (e.g., “Who else feels like this?”) to gauge whether the views that are expressed have broader appeal, and to expand the focus of inquiry.
  • Pay constant attention to respondents’ body language and learn to interpret it.
  • Use layman/respondents’ terminology rather than corporate lingo or technical jargon.
  • Remain impartial. Impartiality is the mainstay of credibility in research; the moderator must always bear in mind that our purpose is research, not advocacy. If required, she needs to sort out any biases prior to conducting a qual study. During the discussion she should express interest in all shades of opinion, not appear to give approval to any particular point of view, and should take care not to lead or direct respondents with the line of questioning.

Handling Potential Problems

Approaches to handling some of the common problems encountered by moderators are listed here.

  • Should a dominant personality (one who takes control of the discussion) emerge within a group, the moderator will need to actively encourage and elicit the opinions of others within the group, while at the same time turn a cold shoulder to the dominant person.
  • Passive participants require encouragement and support by making eye contact, calling them by their names and directly asking them questions.
  • Superfluous storytellers need to be contained so that the discussion may be brought back on course.
  • All points of view, including those expressed in an insensitive manner, should be captured, and the feelings acknowledged. In case of personal attacks, the moderator should remind all participants to be respectful and not direct feelings at others.
  • The moderator should re-energize the group by introducing a break or an activity whenever fatigue sets in.
  • Silence should be respected if it arises from the participants’ need to think through their answers. However, if it is an uneasy silence such as when respondents are feeling inhibited or are not clear about what’s required from them, in that case the moderator should address the cause.

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