In the early stages of program development. it’s natural to keep the brainstorming in-house. But as the program idea grows, flourishes, and begins to take on a life and a name, it may be time to bring in a focus group.
Typically made up of 6-12 people with diverse backgrounds, a focus group can help you determine if there is a market for your new program and give you an understanding of what your target market is. Although most focus group discussions and interviews are informal, you should always have a series of important questions to ask that will help keep discussion flowing in the right direction.
Here are some tips on working with focus groups:
1. Use the focus group when you are testing out a new program, service, or product or when you want to evaluate the results. These are two times where a focus group could be valuable to your organization.
2. Make sure you plan ahead. This is a critical step in the process and will pay great dividends. Plan out who will be attending the group, what the key questions and content areas are, how the group discussion will flow, and what the appropriate setting will be.
3. Actively try to get the “right” mix of people in your focus group. Keep the group size to 6-12 people and screen these individuals to make sure they represent diverse viewpoints around the selected topic area.
4. Avoid interviewing friends who will form a clique. If you see that they are close friends when you begin the group, try to separate them out.
5. Questions should be open-ended, unstructured and used to draw people into a discussion. Make sure you limit the total number of questions to no more than a dozen.
6. If you have a quiet person in the group, take a break, pull them aside and either solicit their opinions or encourage them to speak up in the group.
7. Hire a skilled moderator who will convene the group, ask the questions and keep everyone focused. The moderator should be able to draw out the group and also be a great listener.
8. Have an objective observer sit with the group to monitor the group dynamics and keep notes on the reactions and responses of the group. (In settings where you have the luxury of a one-way mirror, have that person sit behind the mirror and observe the process.)
9. The focus group should last from 90-120 minutes. Keep the group on topic, and be very clear to begin and end on time.
10. Once the focus group is finished, have the moderator and observer get together and compose an analysis with recommendations within one week of the focus group session. You want to have a quick turn-around time to make sure the information is fresh and current.