Whose Focus, Whose Group? The People who make Focus Groups Succeed


We’ve talked a little about the people involved in focus groups, but only in the vaguest of terms, participants, clients, and of course us, the researchers. Who are these people really, and what are their roles?

The Client: Decides What to Research

All research projects start with a question that our client needs answered. No matter the question, research is often the way to find the answer. There is a caveat here, if the question is not specific to a specific company, product, or service, the answer may already exist, you just need to find it through secondary research. Secondary research is the recommended approach for any question that can be answered with information on hand. If the information is not on hand, or does not exist, that is when it is time to conduct primary research to create new findings. It is always worthwhile to consider whether primary or secondary research fits your project needs. There are many different research approaches an organization like Strategic Research Associates recommends to answer any questions the client may have, but in this case we’ll talk specifically about focus groups.

When a client hires a researcher to organize a focus group they should have a few things in mind, the first being the big question they want to answer. Research organizations can help you find the answers you need, but not if you don’t know what you want to know. Often through research more questions are answered than were asked. Based on what the client wants to know the organization of the group may be affected, especially when it comes to the participants we recruit for the project and how the questions are presented. The client may want to know how users of a certain kind of product may react to their brand, how pre-existing customers perceive new business services, or anything else in an innumerable list of possibilities. No matter what the question, there are usually some specifics to the people who can help answer it. Clients may execute a high level of specificity in their participant requirements, or choose to keep the terms of recruitment looser, either way it is the client who has the final say in who to recruit, as they do with all other specifics of the research. We call the limitations the client sets on the numbers of any qualifier (such as age) to include in a group quotas. Quotas help us ensure only the right numbers of the right people are recruited for a group for the best possible results and ensure the final groups of participants are representative. The client makes all of the research decisions, but with the help of the researcher to organize.

The Researchers: Organize the Research

Once the client has decided to research a topic they contact a research organization, such as Strategic Research Associates, to conduct the research. Once client and researcher have established project metrics the researcher moves forward with organizing the group. First we find a place to host the focus group; often for Strategic Research Associates this is one of our two professional focus group locations, though we frequently do off-site groups as well. Once a location has been booked and a clear screening guide decided upon between client and researcher (as a way to choose among potential participants) the researchers get to work recruiting (without asking for approval from the client on each and every recruit).

Some companies, such as Strategic Research Associates, have an in-house calling center to complete recruiting (others hire out the work). By having calling completed in-house Strategic Research Associates maintains control over the project and is better able to ensure all research requirements are met. After a potential participant is recruited for a project they are called back at a later date to double check their answers to critical questions and ensure they are the correct choice for a project. They are also contacted again the day before the focus group takes place to confirm their attendance and answer last minute questions.

At the focus group the research organization is represented by hosts ready to greet all focus group participants and clients, direct people where to go, and generally ensure everything is running smoothly and all client needs are met. Depending on the project the research organization may also provide a moderator to guide the group discussion— if a client does not have one on staff or in mind.

The Participants: Are the Research

Participants are easily as important to a project as the client and researchers. The participants answer the big questions the clients are asking and provide the data to inform future company decisions. By listening to the discussion, clients have an opportunity to receive insight not only into consumer opinions but how those opinions are formed in a social setting, why those opinions are held, and how people talk about the relevant topics amongst themselves. Researchers will summarize focus group results, boiling down participant comments into useful bullet points, but the comments from participants that provide context to the information. During focus groups clients have the opportunity to watch the discussion live, the comments made, the research produced, and get hands on the information immediately. For those who are unable to attend and watch in the viewing room, Strategic Research Associates also has live web viewing capabilities available.

Everyone involved in our research is important; we couldn’t complete a project with any piece missing. If you would like to be involved, check out the rest of our site to learn more about us and what we do.

For more about how we recruit our focus group participants come back in two weeks when we’ll be talking about How we Group: The Focus Group Recruiting Process.