Focus group discussions (FGDs) are an effective way to get individuals with similar experiences or backgrounds to deliberate on a particular topic, guided by a group facilitator or moderator.

Sometimes it may take time to establish rapport among participants, but when they do eventually interact, the real power of a FGD kicks in. Participants can either disagree or agree with one another and when they do, they provide valuable information about differences in opinion, how a specific group perceives an issue, and the inconsistencies that are present in a specific community when it comes to perceptions, practices, faiths, and experiences. This makes FGDs a good qualitative research method which has the potential to harvest valuable information on a certain topic.

FGD formats for qualitative research

The following are the different FGD formats and how they are used in qualitative research. Choose the right format to get the most out of the session:

  1. Single FGD. This is the most common format used in gathering qualitative data. The group comprises facilitators and participants who discuss the selected topic. The convergence of different minds brings about a collection of data that is unique to that focus group.
  2. The Two-Way FGD. This format requires two groups, with one group discussing the given topic while the other merely observes, normally with the help of a one-way mirror. The facilitator and the observer group stay behind the mirror and note the interactions and the discussion. Listening to the other group and how they think usually prompts the other group to different opinions and conclusions.
  3. Duelling moderator FGD. In this discussion, two facilitators each perform a different role within one focus group. This role division ensures the flawless progression of the FGD session, ensuring all the given topics are examined and covered.
  4. Mini FGD. During this situation, only two to five participants are selected by the researchers. The chosen individuals usually have high levels of education and experience.
  5. Respondent moderator FGD. In this format, participant are asked to be temporary moderators. One participant starts by leading the discussion. This is a method that is thought to influence the answers of the other participants, affecting the overall dynamics of the entire group. There is a bigger chance that more honest and diverse answers will be obtained.
  6. Online FGD. Online FGD uses online capabilities such as chatrooms and conference calling. Sometimes, meeting in person is difficult, so researchers opt to meet online. This means of FGD can experience poor or even abrupt loss of Internet connection. It also inhibits the ability of the researchers to get the non-verbal information they need.

Dos and Don’ts for a successful FGD

DO

  1. Look for suitable participants. Know the types of people that you should include in the FGD. Be certain of their qualifications before you tell them the topics of the focus group.
  2. Set objectives and a purpose. Have a clear view of what you want to discover and why you want to discover it. Then come up with a plan containing the decisions you will make using the results.
  3. Hire a highly trained and experienced moderator. A knowledgeable and objective facilitator should preside over the FGD. That person should know how to control the group, ask the right questions, encourage timid participants to speak, be aware of body language and non-verbal cues, keep the schedule, and know when to veer away from the guide.
  4. Create the discussion guide based on your objectives. Your questions should only be limited to your main objectives. Discussing just two to three principal topics can already consume 90 minutes.
  5. Follow up with established research. Every follow-up qualitative study should be based on good qualitative data.
  6. Have accurate transcriptions of the FGD. Verbatim transcriptions may cost a little more but it is worth it. Using this makes it easier to articulate opinions and comments.

DON’T

  1. Moderate the FGD yourself to save money. Always hire highly-trained facilitators because if you facilitate the FGD yourself, you deny yourself the chance to learn from the experience and knowledge of a true professional. You also might be too biased about the topic if it just happens to be a subject about which you are passionate.
  2. Conduct just a single group. Keep in mind that in FGDs, participants respond to and leverage off the comments of other participants. Having several FGDs increases your chances of bringing out insightful comments during the sessions. This will also reduce the likelihood that participants do not carry the views of the entire audience.
  3. Dismiss the ideas of the participants just because they disagree with you. Keep an open mind during the discussion. Those that you happen to disagree on may not be wrong at all. You will miss opportunities to learn if your goal in being in an FGD is to prove your correctness. The chance to improve, as well as time, effort, and money may be wasted in this case.
  4. Skip the quantitative survey update. FGDs should always be used to answer the why’s and the how’s. Before making that all-important decision for your audiences and products, know if your group’s responses reflect your audience. Do this through the mail, online, and even phone surveys.
  5. Hold FGDs at an event just because it is convenient. Events, shows, or conferences are not always ideal venues for FGDs.

Conclusion and the next step

FGDs are often used to know more about the assigned topic, with the aim to direct action in the future. The composition of a FGD should be planned so that the environment is comfortable and non-threatening. In this way, participants are encouraged to respond honestly and openly to questions given by the facilitator and to the opinions of other members as well. The information acquired here is better than data gathered through surveys. In just a short period, information can be gathered so that companies can move forward to reach their goals.

Stand on the shoulders of giants. If you are just starting to use FGDs, investigate past examples of these sessions have helped large corporations reap benefits. There are lots of resources available online.

Alternatively, contact Facilitators Network Singapore (FNS) at admin@fns.sg for help. FNS has an impressive track record of successful FGDs conducted for clients and has a team of highly experienced facilitators for FGDs.