If you are seeking a method to evaluate how an organisation is perceived, or wish to test new ideas then focus groups are a good means to get a ‘story’ of what people think and feel, as the same time. A great deal of information can be gathered from a focus group which is in effect a multiple interview.
As with all diagnostic interventions it is essential that a clear objective is set before embarking on the intervention. What problem do you wish to explore, what information did you need to gather? Choosing people to be on the focus group is also essential. Normally there would be 6 – 10 people in a the group, deciding who to invite, and who should be grouped together is an important part of the preparation. A focus group works best when they are given around 6 questions, and the session is planned and well structured. Good logistics is also essential, ensure invitations, the agenda and questions are sent out in advance and it is a good idea to call participants a couple of days before to remind them to attend.
Focus groups can last as long as they need to, but a good rule of thumb is around 1 to 2 hours. Ensure you have chosen a suitable location which will provide confidentiality and not distractions and ensure participants are comfortable, and not all squeezed into a tiny room. Lay out the room so everyone can see each other, provide name badges and provide refreshments and schedule time for regular breaks. It is a good idea to record the session (video or audio), but if you are unable to do this ensure you have a co-facilitator to help take notes.
Running the session
After you have introduced yourself and any co-facilitators lay out some ground rules which will enable the participants to fully participate and help maintain momentum during the session. Ask each question in turn, give members of the group a few minutes to record their answers and then facilitate a discussion. A good method to use is a transforming meeting. After the group have all spoken and shared their thoughts summarise the points made before moving on to the next question. After all the questions have been examined, close the session giving an indication of when participants will receive a copy of the report generated from their answers and adjourn the meeting.
Immediately After the Session
Check that your audio/video recording has worked successfully, discuss observations you made about the participants during the session with your co-facilitator and make any notes.