Leading group conversations and focus groups

Leading group conversations may sound like an easy task, but, as those who deliver focus groups regularly will know, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. We’ve gathered a few tips that may come in useful for your next discussion so your conversations can move more smoothly, you can use your time efficiently and – most importantly – so you can generate and gather the most useful data from your focus group.

Hold the virtual microphone

Moderators of focus groups must always be aware that they alone hold the responsibility of steering the group discussion. Verbal cues will create a clear opening to move the conversation from one topic to the next and allow participants to make a mental shift. They will also let people know where they are in the discussion – people and ideas thrive when they have direction. Similarly, keep on topic. If the conversation is straying into an area less relevant to the objectives of the research, vocally and calmly address participants, asking them to return to the topic. They are expecting you to take charge, so do not worry about coming across too bossy! Finally – if certain participants are dominating the conversation, make sure to ask other in the room if they agree or disagree. Inclusivity and a diversity of opinion will lead to better research and a better understanding of the subject you would like to know more about.

Avoid leading questions

As many may know, it can be hard not to reflect your own opinions and assumptions onto others. In fact, we have written about it here. To address this issue, use open questions or invite the group to elaborate from their own perspectives. For example, instead of asking a leading question such as “do you think this service is too complicated?”, make the question open: “please tell me about your experience with this service”. This open-ended style of enquiring can be edited to fit any question in your group discussion and will lead to a more honest reflection of what people think.

Never make assumptions

Your subjectivity may risk leading you to misinterpret what your focus groups participants mean.  A way we recommend avoiding this is to continually check in and ask what your subjects mean when they say something. This is particularly important if the comment involves a judgement or an adjective: “You said you had a bad experience with the service, can you please explain this further?”. Another useful method to prevent assumptions is to paraphrase what your participants have said. This gives a chance for those involved in the discussion to correct you if your assumptions are incorrect. Taking this idea even further, you might also finish the focus group with a reflection on key points you have learnt as a result of the discussion and invite feedback. This may lead to additional insights and can clarify key points further.

If you have any other ideas to help keep hold of the conversation in your focus groups, please feel free to comment below!

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