This article is part 2 of 6 in our series on focus groups where we will explain 4 steps to prepare for a focus group.
When organizing a meeting or discussion, preparation is one of the key factors to success. Success usually means that there was resolution achieved, or the goal was met. The same applies to a focus group, as it is a discussion that is led by a facilitator with the objective of gaining knowledge on a specific topic. As focus groups are a tool for market research, they require the preparation of suitable open-ended questions related to the particular topic, visual cues to accompany those questions, and an agenda that the facilitator can follow to stay organized. These questions are prompts that help guide the discussion to conduct the required research. Let’s go through 4 steps that will help you be well prepared to run a focus group.
If you are interested in more information about what focus groups are or the value they can provide, check out Part 1 in this series!
Step 2.1 – Create Discussion Questions
To prepare for a focus group, the first step is to create the questions that the facilitator will ask during the discussion. It is suggested to create 12 questions maximum; 10 is better, and 8 is ideal. As this is an open group conversation rather than a survey, it is most beneficial to create open-ended questions that will result in an explanation rather than asking close-ended yes or no questions. Giving participants the chance to provide their opinions and feedback will result in more information for the research being conducted. It is also important to avoid yes or no questions as the participants may answer yes in order to please the facilitator rather than giving their true opinion.
With that being said, it is also important that the open-ended questions aren’t leading the contributors towards one answer or another. For example, it is better to ask, “Do you think the colour of this packaging should be changed or stay the same, and why?” rather than asking “Should we keep the colour of this packaging the same?”.
It is recommended to start with general questions, before getting specific. The participants will likely be more comfortable if positive questions are asked first, followed by questions that could be perceived as negative. For example, ask “what do you like about this product” first, followed by “what do you dislike about this product.” Keep in mind that these questions are guidelines for the discussion, and that the facilitator may ask additional questions depending on the turn the conversation takes from the responses given.
Step 2.2 – Plan Visuals to Accompany the Questions
Now that the questions have been created, it is important to plan any visuals that might accompany the questions. Visuals could include physical items, images, illustrations, videos, or any graphics that can be shown to the participants so they have something they can look at to better understand what the question is asking. For example, if participants are being asked what they like and dislike about different packaging options for a product, those packaging designs would need to be demonstrated to the audience through images or physical items. Without something to establish what the facilitator is asking, the participants may misunderstand what is being described, which could therefore skew the results of the focus group research. Including visual aspects with questions will also prompt more discussion and will allow the participants to provide more detail in their responses.
Step 2.3 – Prepare the Focus Group Questionnaire
Once the questions and visuals have been chosen for the focus group session, it is time to organize them into a questionnaire! This questionnaire will be used by the notetaker to track the questions asked, to write general notes, and to record common responses and noteworthy individual responses or ideas. As this questionnaire is a guide and the discussion may bring up additional questions, it is good to leave space for any additional questions that may arise during the session.
Step 2.4 – Organize an Agenda for the Facilitator
It is important to prepare an agenda for the facilitator as it will help with staying on task and organized during the focus group session. The agenda is for the facilitator and not the participants. There is no need to provide an agenda to the participants, as the facilitator will guide the discussion while asking the set questions. It is not recommended to give the participants a physical agenda, or to outline the questions that will be asked as this may distract them from the session. When introducing the topic of the discussion, the facilitator will give context as to why they are there and the research that is being conducted.
Here are our recommended points to include in an agenda:
a. Offer Food and Drinks
b. Help with Name Tags
2. Introduce Yourself, the Notetaker, and the Focus Group Topic
3. Participant Introductions and Ice Breaker Question
4. Consent Form
5. Housekeeping, Ground Rules (if any)
6. Start the Discussion
a. Ask Provided Questions – Use any Visual Cues that Accompany the Questions
7. Wrap-Up and Final Thoughts
8. Thank the Participants
Part 4 of this series will give in-depth explanations of each step necessary for running the focus group.
Preparing for Success
Following the 4 steps explained above will help in preparing for effective focus group research. With strategic questions accompanied by visual prompts, a questionnaire for the notetaker to fill out as the discussion progresses, and an organized agenda to help the facilitator stay on track, the company will be one step closer to being ready for a successful focus group session.
Next in Part 3 of our series on focus groups we will describe the steps involved in preparing to recruit the participants.