Recap from Part I
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.
This is the single biggest challenge. Where do we get the participants? How do we make them as representative of the population as possible? Should we provide incentives? How do we make sure they show up the day of the groups? Let me try to answer these fundamental questions.
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. A research firm that charges several thousand per group will do the recruiting. The research firm will often purchase lists of names for individuals and businesses along with contact numbers and additional data. They then use these to source participants.
For a start-up cooperative with limited funds, the recruiting is usually done in-house and often a person from the Steering Committee or Board handles the task. Someone from inside the group knows the potential or actual members and can more efficiently recruit. Often the client will have an extensive email list that can be used to identify participants. A call for participation can also go out in local papers and newsletters. Eventually someone is going to have to do phone time. Sometimes phone calls are necessary in the general recruiting, but more often they are needed in the follow up and attendance confirmation. Though, more and more communication is happening by email.
The composition of the groups should be carefully considered. This will depend on the number of groups you are doing. If the client is doing four groups here is one composition strategy for a start-up cooperative project:
1. Leadership group (important to get a sense of affinity, quality of leadership, shared vision, and all the other intangibles that portend a successful cooperative).
2. Female-only from population with some interest in project (good to separate sexes, the dynamic can be complicated by mixing of the sexes -- especially if the group has representative from conservative religious cultures)
3. Male-only from population with some interest in project (same reasoning as with female group. Topics will come up in a male-only group that might not emerge as strongly or at all in a mixed group.)
4. One mixed from population that has not indicated any interest (Getting broader community perspective and is good for surfacing potential conflicts or barriers.)
Many other strategies for sorting participants exist. If the Primary Trade Area contains a mix of races, ethnicities, or other critical demographic, then the groups might be structured around these to better obtain clarity of perspective. The crucial point is to consider the information you are attempting to obtain and then structure the groups to best gather that information.
A research firm will usually pay an honorarium to each person as an incentive to show up and fully participate. The going rate for an “average” person focus group is $30 to $50 each. For a group of professionals such as doctors, the rate could be as high as $500 each. Cooperative start-ups rarely have funds for this and will often offer a lunch or dinner as a small thank you. Sometimes donated incentives such as an X% off a local business or a “free something” are offered as a thank you.
Be sure to have everyone participating sign a form that authorizes the “capture” of their opinions. Basically, it is a waiving of confidentiality and should cover all spoken statements, comments, and ideas captured by audio, visual, or written notes/statements. Some states have strict statues prohibiting the recording of conversations without previous permission – preferably in writing. And you will definitely be recording the group. On KDC’s forms we do a two sided version with “read this first section” on the front, and on the other side, a consent form. Here is an example from a food-cooperative related focus group:
READ THIS FIRST
You are about to participate in a focus group about your participation in the start-up of a food cooperative. Your opinion is vital to understanding the present leadership of the project. This will help the Keystone Development Center to better provide a feasibility analysis for the cooperative.
Please feel free to communicate with any person in the focus group who makes you feel comfortable. It is important to take the time you need to in order to provide both spontaneous and considered opinions on the questions asked. If you want to revise your opinion at any time, let the moderator know before the session ends. If at any time you do not understand one of the ideas presented or described, please ask for clarification—you are an important part of this research!
We want you to be very clear about your agreement to participate and that your participation is entirely voluntary. For that reason, you are requested to sign the attached consent form.
FOCUS GROUP CONSENT FORM
I have voluntarily agreed to participate in a focus group on the topic and date identified. This form authorizes the capture of my opinions on the topic. I waive my rights to confidentiality and agree that such opinions may include any and all of the following:
1. Spoken statements
2. Comments extraneous to the topic as stated during the focus session
3. Ideas rendered, which may be included in the feasibility report.
These opinions might be captured by any and all of the following formats:
1. Audio recordings
2. Visual recordings, including films, photographs, and audiovisual records
3. Written statements
Who should moderate your groups? In an ideal world, the moderator should not be part of the client group or well known to any of the participants. The moderator role is critical. A good moderator is able to solicit answers quickly and efficiently without introducing bias into the data.
The mantra for the moderator is, “no one wants to hear what I have to say.” She or he should refrain from interjecting opinions. Answers from the participants should be acknowledged but not commented on, unless to ask a clarifying question or to segue for continuity of discussion. Keeping quiet can be very difficult, especially if the topic is something the moderator cares about. And sometimes participants can be especially determined to get an opinion or comment from the moderator. Everyone slips up once in a while; just keep it to a minimum.
I prefer to always work with an Assistant Moderator. This is someone who can step in at the last minute if something goes wrong for the Moderator – sickness, unavoidable lateness, or other emergency. Unless the Assistant Moderator has to step in and moderate; she or he will be taking notes. This greatly reduces the analysis time.
The room set up is important. A bit of thought about location and advance work can contribute positively to the process. 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. The second room or space is where the focus group happens. Once the group has assembled, they are then escorted into the second room. (Yes there are almost always late arrivals and it is up to the moderator whether to allow them into the group.) The participants sit around a table with the moderator. Usually the only other person in the room is the Assistant Moderator who is taking notes. This eliminates outside distractions and promotes a free flow of opinions. A research firm often uses a specially designed room with one-way mirrors. In this case, the client can sit on the other side of the mirror and observe the groups. These are expensive facilities and not usually available to a cooperative start up.
Use as small a table as everyone can comfortably gather round (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. A large index card folded in half works great. A thick marker is preferred and only put the first name on the tent card (less cluttered and avoids last-name connotations). This helps everyone address each other – useful in a group where no one knows each other. But mainly the name cards are for the moderator (and Assistant Moderator) so she or he can keep accurate notes and call on individuals by name without falter.
If possible, have water and glasses on the table for that moment when someone has a coughing attack. Sometimes pads and pens are provided, though it is the rare group that requires the participant to write anything down.
Use a good tape recorder, set in the middle of the room. Recording the group is essential for the analysis. The Moderator usually takes notes but these are usually incomplete. At a minimum these notes help identify who is talking on the recording.
In Part III of this series, I will cover more on moderating techniques and the follow-up analysis.
By: Cathy Smith