Exploratory Research – Using Four-Hour Focus Groups
I recently conducted a series of four-hour long, live focus groups. It has been some time since one of my studies required such a lengthy investigation and I have both the benefits and challenges fresh in my mind.
Each night during introductions I joked with the participants by asking “what were you thinking when you signed up for a four-hour group?”
If the question were turned back to me, this is how I would reply:
“I have a wide range of materials I want to explore with you, including a few that will require some time for you to properly evaluate. Fully benefiting from this detailed review will require an in-depth discussion of your perceptions, including speculation about your future needs. Four-hours may seem like a long time but to complete our agenda we will actually need to stay focused and work efficiently.”
This “reply” to my own question points toward the approach taken to “explore” a host of relevant issues to ensure that my client’s new product is launched on an accurate trajectory.
To further increase the likelihood of gathering deep and accurate data I recruited “veterans”, meaning participants with more years of experience in their profession than I usually require.
Despite the length of the group the evening felt fast-paced and participants commented that it seemed to go by quickly. In the end the data was rich and deep and according to my client, well worth the investment of time and money.
The challenges of such lengthy groups are mostly logistical, such as gathering the needed materials, planning the presentations, orchestrating the many transitions and incorporating time for breaks and food efficiently.
Coordinating the creation of a discussion guide, PowerPoint presentation and a variety of note-taking and survey “worksheets” took a lot longer than a typical focus group. However, the time investment paid off in the form of smoothly running groups that covered all of the material without feeling rushed.
I think that four hours is about the limit for a focus group format. I don’t think that anyone; participants, observers or the moderator can effectively sustain a useful “focus” for much longer. Plus, when your total time frame requires multiple breaks and more than one meal it seems wise to move to a half or full-day meeting format.