A recap of today’s presentation by Prof. Maria Ivancin on Focus Groups: A Professional’s Perspective: 

Today Professor Maria Ivancin from the School of Communication gave a presentation about focus groups from a practitioner’s point-of-view. Her presentation was very insightful as she demonstrated how focus groups was a method that could be used beyond the classroom and put into practice as a tool for improving decision-making in professional settings. According to her,  using focus groups in professional setting was like doing “research for decision-making.” She also briefly mentioned the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods, explaining that, when using quantitative analysis, you already know what you want to know, whereas when using qualitative analysis, you just try to learn as much as possible about a specific topic.

Ivancin added that qualitative research is not often used for decision-making because people have a tendency to see it as subjective. She further emphasized that adding numbers to a qualitative research (i.e.: frequency of words) does not make it quantitative.  Ivancin loves focus groups because they are very effective and more interactive than other methods, especially in the professional world. In comparison to one-on-one interviews, focus groups are much more popular in the professional world. It is good to note that she mediated hundreds of focus groups, mainly in the marketing arena, so she may have a different perspective than someone using focus group in an academic setting on topics such as conflict and gender.

However, I think that many points made during her presentation apply across disciplines and sectors. While she did say that participants are usually paid, and that focus groups are thus usually expensive, it does not mean you cannot use focus groups if you have limited funding. As I just mentioned, Ivancin used it mainly for marketing and her clients were big companies/organizations. However, if you are in academia and want to use focus groups but have limited funding, you do have options: you can apply for grants or you can find other creative ways to compensate participants for their time. In other words, funding or the lack thereof should not stop you from looking into this research method.

Some other specific tips that Maria gave about focus groups: you generally want at least 2 different focus groups for a research project, though between 4 and 8 focus groups is the best. Furthermore, each focus group should include at least 5 participants, but ideally have between 8 to 10 people. Maria emphasized that group dynamics are crucial in the success of focus groups, so less than 5 participants is not going to give you a group dynamic, but more than 12 is too big of a group to achieve any kind of depth in the conversation. Finally, when choosing participants, there should be a mix of people, and you should eliminate the possibilities of participant bias by using a screening questionnaire.

Maria will most likely conduct a follow-up seminar on how to use focus groups in academic research settings, so stay tuned for more info!

By: Sophie