Focus Groups

FOCUS GROUPS  – What They Are and How To Use Them

What it is:

A Focus Group is a structured free-flowing interview with a small group of people. It is a small temporary community, based on some mutual interest, formed for the purpose of discovery.

What you get:

Information collected is qualitative in nature (as contrasted with quantitative), and respondents may be probed in depth for feelings and/or explanations of their reasoning.

How many participants should be included:

For best results, try to assemble between seven (7) and twelve (12) interviewees (note that it may be necessary to invite more than that number because not everyone who agrees will actually show up…)

How many interviewers are needed:

At least one “neutral” interviewer. Interested stakeholders (company owners, advertising agency representatives, etc.) may be
present and may participate in the questioning / probing process — but only if they agree (a) to LISTEN and not interrupt speakers; (b) to avoid any defensive responses; and (c) to avoid interrupting the flow and direction set by the host and the

How long should it be:

Generally, about an hour and a half to two hours is appropriate — any longer and fatigue sets in. Be absolutely certain to start and finish
on time.

Who should be included in the Focus Group Panel:

Include those who have some interest in the object being discussed. Often, current, proposed or past Customers are used. Others might include employees, users of competitor’s products or services, and sometimes, non-users.

How to start:

Open the session with a general explanation of why this group has been convened, what the purpose or intended outcome is, and introduce all the participants (or allow them to introduce themselves). If the meeting is to be recorded, have all participants sign releases.

What to do:

Create a list of four (4) to six (6) main questions you want the group to respond to (less is better). Then one at a time, introduce each question and probe for in-depth responses to that topic. Be sure each member of the group has a chance to voice their opinions and feelings (you may have to call on them to be sure they vocalize their opinions).

How to end:

When the end time approaches, thank all participants for their comments, ask an open-ended summary general question (Does anyone have anything to add to today’s discussion?), then distribute their compensation (if any).


  • Introduce yourself, and if appropriate, the sponsoring organization.
  • Include a brief background explaining why you are involved in this activity.
  • Explain why we are here at this time. Include background which led up to this activity. Explain that the intent of this activity is to listen to and learn from the participants. (This may be part of an original fact-finding project or an element in a continuous improvement process.)
  • Explain what will happen during this session:
    • Usually about four (4) principal questions
    • Everyone answers independently and thoroughly
    • Feel free to contribute at any time (piggy backing, “aha”, “Oh, yeah…”)
  • Explain how the process will unfold:
    • Round robin style, volunteers first, everyone will have an opportunity to respond in depth to every question
  • Explain the role of the Recorder, if any — or that the meeting will not be recorded.
  • Explain the role of Observers — who they are, what their interest is, and whether they might be expected to ask questions, probe for more details, or participate in any other way.
  • Explain the value of a casual, relaxed atmosphere. Invite participants to enjoy any hospitality you might have provided, and help encourage astress-free environment.

Example Follow-up Questions

  • How do you feel about that?
  • Do you feel that way too?
  • Do you agree with that?
  • What do you think that is different from the others?
  • You look like you disagree with what was just said. Do you?
  • Is that really the way it is?



All who attend a Focus Group must be pre-briefed on their role, what to expect, what to do and what to avoid. Allow fifteen to twenty minutes of quality time for this exchange, including plenty of time for questions and two-way dialog about what is going to happen. They are likely to be nervous too, and it is important that they appear relaxed and confident.

Key roles:

  •  The Audience — those participants whose opinions and feelings you want to capture.
  •  The Facilitator — the guide and moderator of the Focus Group session.
  • The Recorder — one who keeps records of the comments of Audience participants, and who will later submit a written report on the meeting content.
  • The Timekeeper — one who agrees to keep the meeting on track and on time. Ask for an explicit notification about fifteen (15) minutes before the agreed-upon end time. (Note: be sure to end on time! Never run over!)
  • Observers — interested parties who want to observe the Focus Group panel interaction first-hand and who may wish to probe for greater depth in specific categories.

As an Observer, DO:

  •  Exhibit open, inviting non-verbals.
  •  Generally remain silent.
  •  Ask probing (open-ended) questions as appropriate.
  •  Contribute to a low-stress, casual atmosphere.
  •  Listen carefully and attentively. SHOW that you are listening.
  •  Take notes as you need to – quietly and unobtrusively.

As an Observer, DO NOT:

  • React defensively to anything you hear or see.
  • Indicate enthusiasm nor disagreement with the Panel’s comments — try to remain “positively neutral.”
  • Argue with any participant.
  • Engage in cross-talk. Remember: One speaker at a time.
  • Answer lengthy or complex questions in the Focus Group setting. We will respond to these later privately.

Post-Briefing: Try to meet with Observers immediately following the Focus Group session to exchange views and opinions about what you heard as well as the process as it unfolded.