Friday, December 19, 2008

Focus group preparation

Focus groups are informal group discussions, usually including six to eight people who fall within your sample group. This market research tool allows MFIs to collect a relatively large amount of data in a relatively short period of time. Focus groups also allow for an in-depth examination of issues through the dynamics of a peer-group discussion.

One question that frequently arises is: how big should the sample size be? Generally, when focus groups start yielding repetitive information, it’s time to stop.

Here’s how to prepare for a focus group:

Step 1) Figure out what you want to learn. A focus group can run an hour in length and you don’t want to waste your clients’ time (or your own) with nonsensical questions. What do you really need to know? How will the information help you make decisions?

Step 2) Decide who you want to learn about – i.e., who is your sample? In market research, a sample is a select group of people. You need to make sure the people who participate in your focus groups can actually answer your questions and meet your research objectives.

Imagine that you want to learn about the impact of advertising in bringing you new clients. Should your focus group include potential clients who have never borrowed from your MFI, or existing clients? The former, of course! Yes, it may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many MFI managers bring in the wrong group of people to answer the wrong questions.

Step 3) Write a discussion plan. At its simplest (and I like simple) this is a list of questions you’ll ask during the focus group. Questions should be designed to encourage honest answers.

Some general rules for designing your questions include:

· Include warm up questions. The order you ask questions in is important – you want participants to feel relaxed enough to answer your questions honestly. Starting with hard or complex questions can freeze people up, so start with easy, “getting to know you” type questions.
· Move from general to specific – this will allow you to get a more in-depth understanding of what participants think.
· Move from past to future – this is how most of us think, and will make it easier for people to respond.
· Start with general questions and then move to probing questions.
· Use simple language.
· Use open questions, i.e. questions starting with the words, “what,” “how,” “when,” “why”, and “where.”

Step 4) Plan your logistics. You’ll get a lot of information during a focus group. Optimally, you will video tape it for later review. Tape recorders can work too, though it’s frequently difficult for everyone to be heard on the tape. Your third option is to have a note taker, but they’ll need to be able to write fast!

Additionally:

· Secure an appropriate, quiet, meeting place where you won’t be interrupted by ringing phones or other MFI staff;
· Choose a convenient time for the respondents;
· Make appointments with the participants;
· Ensure invitations to the focus group are clearly communicated;
· Arrange for transport where it is necessary;
· Provide food, drink, and gifts for participants – they’re taking time to help you, and should be rewarded for it.

Next up: moderating focus groups.

1 comment:

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