Recap from Part I and II
Qualitative research has great use in cooperative development. Through an organized method of gathering information from small-sized samples, the developer can identify strengths and weaknesses of the project; understand potential cooperative members; help to identify the primary trade area; surface potential community conflicts; brainstorm ideas and strategy; investigate brand/service positioning; use it as a pre-survey to develop the hypothesis to be quantified; or in post-survey to explore in-depth the quantitative findings. Focus groups are the most popular form of qualitative research. They are guided discussions in which 8-10 respondents discuss a topic or series of topics in their own words. The group is guided by a moderator and usually lasts 1 ½ to 2 hours. The moderator uses a carefully crafted moderator guide that lays out the questions and potential prompts for “drilling down” into opinions and perspectives.
Recruiting is the single biggest challenge. How to source participants will depend on each group. If you are a development center or consultant providing this service pro bono, the client is going to have to step up and help.
The composition of the groups should be carefully considered. This will depend on the number of groups you are doing. Be sure to have everyone participating sign a form that waives confidentiality and should cover all spoken statements, comments, and ideas captured by audio, visual, or written notes/statements. The moderator role is critical. A good moderator is able to solicit answers quickly and efficiently without introducing bias into the data.
The room set up is important. Ideally there are two areas – one where the participants are greeted and given the release forms to review and sign. This allows the group to mingle ahead of time and the second room or space is where the focus group happens. Use as small a table as everyone can comfortably gather around (including the moderator). There is a balance in that you want to keep everyone in physical proximity to one another, but you also do not want to push people so close that there is irritation at the invasion of personal space. Use tent cards with everyone’s first name. This helps participants address each other – useful in a group where no one knows each other. But mainly the name cards are for the moderator so she or he can keep accurate notes and call on individuals by name without falter. Use a good tape recorder, set in the middle of the room. Recording the group is essential for the analysis.
The Moderator and Seating
Details about the Moderator in Part II are not repeated here (Part I and II can be found at on KDC’s website under the tips for co-op developers in the news and events section.) When choosing a moderator, try to identify someone with experience in doing groups. Contact KDC directly if you want to learn more about hiring a research firm who would provide a moderator as part of their services. Otherwise, chose your moderator carefully. If there are multiple groups, try to have the same moderator do all groups, to eliminate any moderator bias from the data. Remember that a good moderator will not inject her or his opinions or biases into the information coming from the group.
The Moderator usually takes notes but these are often incomplete. At a minimum the moderator’s notes should help identify who is talking on the recording. For quick reference, the moderator often writes the first names of the participants by location to Moderator in a half circle on the top of page 1 of her or his notes. If an Assistant Moderator (AM) is being used with the group, this person sits outside the circle and often has a laptop for note-taking. This can greatly speed up the analysis process, especially is the AM is a good typist.
The ideal seating for a focus group is a circle with the moderator at one end, positioned so that she or he can see all faces in the circle. Being able to read body language is an important skill. If there are any contentious issues that are likely to emerge in the group, a gentle assigning of seats can help balance the energy in the room. This is if there is any advance knowledge about which side of a conflict an individual might verbalize. When participants are allowed to choose their own seat, often the most confrontational person will take a place directly opposite the moderator.
Number of Groups to Field
How many groups are enough? This is a question that comes up in every situation. The quick answer is “do enough groups until you start hearing the same answers to the questions.” Sometimes resources do not allow this to be the case, but ideally one should do a sufficient number of groups to get a full “top of mind” from the target population. Do remember that this is not a technique to gather quantitative data. It is antidotal information gathered within a structured framework. The data cannot be extrapolated but it will be useful for other purposes. With all that said if you do 4 groups with 10 each, at the end of the process you will have heard from 40 people and while this is not a large number, it should be enough to hear nearly the whole range of possible answers and to have an understanding of response intensity.
The group is over and all you have now are the notes from the moderator (and maybe an AM) and a recording of the session. Now is the time for the analysis. The effort and time to do the group will have no value if the results are incomplete, poorly analyzed, or not communicated.
The normal first thing is to do a transcript of the group – this is a written log of what was said in the group. This is done by using the recording and the notes. If notes from an Assistant Moderator are available, the transcript process can be shortened. With good AM notes already in electronic format, all the transcriber has to do is to listen to the tape and fill in the blanks. Otherwise, she or he is typing it in from scratch. This stage takes time. At a minimum, for a 1.5 hour group, the transcribing will take at least 2 hours. Just listening to the recording takes 1.5 hrs. Sometimes, for example with a larger group who is particularly verbal, the transcripts can be a bit overwhelming.
A comment on confidentiality is warranted. Depending on what privacy you promised your participants, be sure to treat the recording and transcripts with respect. The summary is shared with the client, but the transcripts are rarely shared beyond the team doing the focus group. To be sure anonymity is maintained, you can give the participants a code letter or name on the transcripts. That way unless you have the list of participants and their respective code, one cannot match a specific comment on the transcript with who said it.
With the transcripts in hand, the summary phase can begin. The Moderator Guide provides the structure for the summary. Each question is a section and the content is the summary of answers to the question. Group similar answers together. Take the analysis a section at a time and sort the comments into identified themes. The Moderator and/or the transcriber are often in the best position to identify the themes. Be sure to pull out some quotes that highlight the most important answers. As part of the summary, be sure to describe the participants – number men/women, married/single, family size, age, and address are just a few possible categories on which to report.
Take the time to write up a formal summary so that the information can be passed back to the client (if appropriate). It can also be used in feasibility reports or as a reference for follow-up groups.
This depends on what the qualitative research is being used to understand. If it is a start-up cooperative business client, the focus group is probably part of the feasibility study process -- the due diligence process. Opportunities for the business and barriers to success can be surfaced through a focus group. Information from the group will help set the Primary Trade Area for the business and assist in understanding the likely demographics of the market share. This information is also important in the financial modeling part of the feasibility process.
In many cases, the focus groups are followed by or done concurrently with a quantitative survey of likely patrons. The internet allows the efficient use of on-line surveys to reach out to hundreds of individuals. The focus groups can help frame the questions for the survey and can valuable insight into how to structure answers.
By: Cathy Smith, PhD