Six Tips for Observing Focus Groups

by DJI

The Challenge:

Recently one of our readers commented that sometimes, their fellow focus group observers in the back-room do not take full advantage of learning and opportunities because they are using the time to check their email or voicemail.

At other times, back-room behavior can be even more disruptive.  Chit-chat makes it harder to follow the discussion in the other room. Jokes or negative comments are sometimes made about participants, especially if they have identified a weakness in a product or a campaign, or offered praise to a competitor.  This type of resentment, while not meant to be taken seriously, has the effect of delegitimizing not just the singled-out participant or comment, but the process as a whole.

Every experienced moderator and observer has witnessed, frequently, focus group participants glancing toward the mirror as, in spite of soundproofing, some of the back-room hubbub has filtered into the meeting room.

Some Suggestions:

First, we recognize that some observers may only have an interest in one part of the discussion and may welcome the opportunity to tune out the rest and catch up on email.  However, here are some ideas that we have used to help them remember the need for common courtesy to others in the back room and to maximize their learning:

  • Give attendees a specialized grid to note respondent names and comments. Providing materials that can be completed as part of the observation process cuts down on unnecessary distractions.
  • Provide observers with a brief written list of key issues to watch/listen for … to help keep attention on the conversation on the other side of the mirror. Title it: “Issues for post-session review”.
  • Assign a junior or intern to conspicuously take word-for-word notes in the front row. Most people will respect that this person needs a reasonably quiet atmosphere to do his or her job.
  • Take the lead by setting a good example. Be conspicuous yourself in talking in low tones and paying close attention to the discussion.
  • When appropriate, invite others from your department whom you know to have good observation etiquette.
  • Serve food in an adjacent room, so that meal consumption doesn’t divert attention away from the group (most facilities provide a TV in the lounge where the group can be monitored while eating).

Email us for a copy of our “Guidelines for Observing Focus Groups” sheet that can be distributed to attendees before the groups start.