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How to run a focus group

June 2013

A focus group is a group of around 8 – 10 people who are selected or come together; and using their own personal experience have a discussion and comment on a particular topic.

At the Big Local spring events 2013 we explained what focus groups are and ran a practical session on how to plan one, recruit people to take part, and then how to run one.

Why hold them?

Because Big Local partnerships might want to find out:

  • What people think about specific local issues. For example, what do people locally think about payday lending? Or local sports facilities?
  • What are the reactions to new ideas the partnership is thinking about. For example, would people use a community-run grocery shop if one was set-up? How would people feel about spending money to teach people how to create music or films?
  • Whether people know about the partnership itself and what they think of it.For example, does the partnership sound like something they would like to be part of? What do people think the partnership does?

We want to run a focus group - so what next?

First you need to do some planning:

  • How many focus groups do you want and how many are you able to organise? You need more than one focus group, otherwise you’ll never know if the opinions of that one group were typical, or unusual. Try to hold at least three so you can compare what different groups say, but don’t underestimate how much time and effort each one takes to organise.
  • Decide how long the focus groups will last, what time to hold them, and where. An hour and a half is enough time for a good discussion but be realistic about how much time people can spare. Then choose between daytime or evening, weekday or weekend. The venue needs to be somewhere quiet where you can close the door to avoid distractions, and somewhere you can put the chairs in a circle or around a table.
  • Do you need to offer an incentive (like vouchers) to get enough people? You’ll need to see how it goes with the first few people you recruit – but the more of an incentive you offer, the quicker and easier it will be to recruit people.
  • Plan the questions you want to ask. You only need four or five questions as each question will easily lead to ten minutes of discussion.
  • Decide who is going to write-up the discussion and who is going to lead the focus group. You must collect detailed notes, as it will be impossible to remember everything if you don’t write it down. If nobody is available to take notes, use a tape recorder but remember to tell people if you are going to record them. Also check in advance that the recorder you use will play back good enough quality, clear sound.

How do you recruit people for a focus group?

  • You could recruit in a busy public place – a high street, parade of shops, outside a supermarket or station – this will get a mix including people who have never heard of Big Local.
  • You could recruit at a Big Local event – although this might include people who already know about Big Local.
  • You could go door-knocking on residential streets but this will obviously create a focus group of people who live near each other
  • If you want to find out about particular types of people then go to where they are. For example, if you want parents of young children then ask local nurseries if some of their parents would like to take part.

How do you run the actual focus group?

  • Say ‘welcome and thank you for coming’ then explain who you are and what the focus group is about. Also explain how information from the focus group will be used.
  • Check that everyone can stay for the whole meeting and ask people to put their phones on silent.
  • Be open and honest about why you are running a focus group and why you have chosen these particular people to take part. Explain any ‘ground-rules’ you want to set (like respecting everyone’s opinion, and taking group responsibility for ensuring sure everyone gets a chance to speak).
  • Ask everyone to introduce themselves – their name, where they live, maybe ask people to say if they have ever been in a focus group before – this is just about warming everyone up and ‘breaking the ice’.
  • Then ask your first question. Wait to see who wants to have a go answering first, then let others join in or respond to what the first person said. Let the discussion take different paths, but bring it back to your question if it goes too far off.
  • Make a note of who has spoken and who has not, and make sure everyone in the group has a chance to speak. You should encourage quieter people to share their thoughts, and ask the more talkative people to let everyone else have a turn.
  • At the end you might want to reflect on what has been discussed and ask people whether the discussion went the way they expected.
  • And finally, it should be an enjoyable experience for all involved!

We hope you try running a focus group yourself, and let us know what happens. We also hope you get a chance to pass this ‘how to’ guide on to others in your Big Local area.

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