Conducting Focus Groups

Sidenote : Please note I know about the funky formatting problems. I have to fix them. ukgimp.

If you are interested in usability and the users perception of your website you can do a lot worse that start to initiate some focus group sessions. You will find out information that that you never dreamed possible. Some of the suggestions you receive will be golden and you never really would think of. It is up to you act on this information and you would be foolish If you did not as these are your customers, you should listen to them!

So how do you go about conducting a focus group session? There are many ways but here is mine so hopefully it will give you some ideas of your own or at least make you enough of an expert to quiz your professional focus group service provider.

The Aim of the Focus Group
First off you need to plan what it is you are trying to find out, basically ‘the aim’. You can see a typical ‘aim’ later on this post where I have added a real focus group script. Be aware that without proper planning you will crash and burn, waste money and look like a right tit in front of the people who attend and maybe even your boss when they ask what you found out.

Choosing Focus Group Attendees
Choosing who attends is critical to the success of your focus group and I recommend somewhere between 4 and 8 people from your site demographic. If you have several demographics you may need to run a couple of sessions, for example students and lecturers. It is important not to mix clearly defined groups of people as you wont get the best from your attendees, as they may be looking for different things or features.

When ever I have conducted a focus group session I stick to a familiar script which broadly consists of the following sections:

  1. Background Questionnaire to get quantitative results. (age, surfing habits, hours per week online etc etc)
  2. General introduction to website and fact finding mission
  3. Demonstration of the service/website
  4. Group feedback session
  5. Tea break with accessible flip charts for discreet comments with Good/Bad columns
  6. Additional services feedback and questionnaire
  7. Fun task, in small groups
  8. Small scale presentation to get feedback
  9. Free food 🙂

You can see the above sections in more detail in the full script.

Tips on Running a Successful Focus Group Session and Getting all you can:

  • Plan that session!
  • Call people the day before and on the day of your session as no people mean no results and that isn’t any fun!
  • Offer some money, plus a free feed for the attendees.
  • Make your attendees feel at ease, tell them this is anonymous and you value their opinions.
  • Record the session, I recommend a digital recorder and omni directional mic, discrete and powerful, and this saves you writing notes like loony 🙂
  • ACT ON YOUR FINDINGS, these suggestions are from your chosen market/audience, they know what they want and they expect you to deliver it, after all they are your customers!!

I hope that has offered some help to you and the example script below is of some use:

Sample Focus Group Script

The aim is to find out about the way students and academics find the information they need from the Internet to conduct their research and studies. The second aim is to determine the current perception of Site X and generate feedback on possible additional services.

Part 1: Background Questionnaire (completed on arrival)

Part 2: Present Searching Techniques (30 Mins)

  • What are you favourite and least favourite web sites for searching?
  • What do you like/dislike about these websites?
  • Give an example of a website you remember?
  • Do you use X, Y, Z or other specific websites?
  • What do you like about these sites?
  • Have you used Site X? If so how often?

Part 3: Site X User Demo / Exercise (10Mins)

Part 4: Group Feedback on Site X (20 Mins)

  • Have you used Site X before?
  • What did you like about the site?
  • What aspects did you dislike?
  • How could it be improved?

Part 4: Tea Break with Free for All Feedback
During a ten minute tea break set up two/four flip charts with headings, good aspects, bad sspects. Totally anonymous, say what you feel.

Part 5: Additional Service Feedback (20 mins 2X 10mins)
Look at the following two additional services and then make comments on the two sheets of paper provided. Spend around 10 minutes on each.

  • Conference/Events
  • Personalisation

Part 6: Design a Portal (30 Mins)
You are an Internet concept consultant hired by a large multinational company to design the key features and functions of a new (insert subject) portal that would appeal to the (insert subject) community consisting of (student/academics). You must create the look and feel of the website and use a flip chart to design the main layout. You must consider the features you would like to see and how you would like them presented. At this stage the sky is the limit. Think about how you would promote it as well, eg adverts in journals, word of mouth, email.

Part 7: Presentations (5-10 mins per group)
You must give a short “run-around” of your concept, giving reasons for including individual aspects and the overall layout.