Focus groups are a form of eliciting information from a specific demographic group of individuals or another unifying factor. The difference from a standard survey is the freedom to communicate and express thoughts about a subject or idea. Participants are free to express their opinions and share their thoughts.
The fathers of this method are Robert Merton and Ernest Dichter. Like any other method, it has both advantages and disadvantages, which we will talk about.
About the advantages
The main advantage of using a focus group is that it equalizes all participants in the group. Social and economic differences, degrees of education, and other distinctive attributes that could potentially skew the data are eliminated because everyone becomes an equal participant in the group.
- Responding together
Interesting to see how participants’ responses often overlap and complement each other. Such an approach is unique since one participant’s response is directly influenced by the responses of others. Thus, the final opinion may even depend on the order of the speakers. People consider others’ opinions, and reasons, and conclude. In essence, participants can form a common answer based on the thoughts of all responders.
- Broaden the audience
Focus group participants are very different people with different backgrounds. Online surveys especially stand out in this regard. This diversifying approach allows for a much larger sample.
- Work in comfort
One of the main problems is tension. People don’t like having their time taken away from them. And if it’s done on the way to work or while shopping, it will be even more annoying. Focus groups, on the other hand, create an environment where a person comes and participates in the discussion at will. At the same time, he is free, full, and not thirsty.
Most focus groups (except for studies where the interviewee’s identity plays a key role) ensure anonymity. People come together knowing that they all have something in common. At the same time, they are guaranteed anonymity. And it has long been known that it is easier for a person to tell the truth to a stranger whom they will never see again.
About the disadvantages
The main feature of a focus group is also a disadvantage. After all, the interviewees are only part of a certain group. There is no quantitative factor. Of course, it is possible to gather multiple groups and carry out repeated surveys, but it is too expensive both in terms of time and expenses.
- The influence of the leader
Human beings are social creatures. And in any group, even one that is assembled for one hour, a leader can be determined. On the one hand, such a person can help, direct the discussion in the right direction. But too strong a leader can change the opinion of participants, distorting the final result.
- Limited participation
Often not all participants in a discussion are active. This is especially true of introverts who may say only a couple of words during the entire hour of conversation, without revealing their point of view.
People are different, and everyone has his or her tastes, type of behavior, and opinion on a certain subject. If even a couple of people have a bias towards other participants or the topic of discussion itself, the results of the study are disappointing.
Focus groups collect a lot of valuable and fairly comprehensive information. But the quality of that data and the outcome of the entire study depends on many factors. As with any scientific research method, focus groups have advantages and disadvantages. The main thing is to learn how to use them appropriately.