Focus groups

1. Definition
A focus group is a moderated group discussion (8-12 persons) or a group interview on specific topics. The aim is to identify and document participants' opinions, ideas, perceptions and interpretations on specific topics. It is a qualitative research method and specific type of survey.

2. Applications
Focus groups are mainly used in market research (e.g. new product launches, product names, etc.). Questions are posed to stimulate debate, and the interaction of the participants is used to identify attitudes, emotions, opinions, experience, expectations and reactions from a variety of points of view. The objective is to identify specific differences, points in common, and deviant opinions.

In communications management, focus groups can provide valuable aids to decision-making in the implementation of communication measures, planned campaigns, or general procedure (e.g. crisis response).

Participants are not a random sample, but selected on the basis of particular characteristics (including age, social background, education, training) in accordance with the matters being investigated and the topic concerned. After definition of the problem and formulation of research questions, criteria for participant selection are defined and – in collaboration with the moderator – a discussion guideline is drawn up.

Open questions and open conversational situations with equal-ranking partners determine the framework. The moderator intervenes to guide discussion as required and attempts to identify people's positions. The discussions are recorded on camera, then transcribed and the content is evaluated.

Focus group discussions can also take place online. The advantages of online discussion are the savings in terms of time and cost, freedom of location, greater anonymity (thereby reducing social desirability bias). The disadvantages of online discussion are the lack of nonverbal cues, low-emotionality communication, lack of group dynamics, and poor concentration.

4. Indicators

  • Participants' degree of agreement
  • Intensity of debate
  • Number of opinions
  • Consensus orientation

5. Service providers in Germany
A&B.Framework, Berlin
forsa, Berlin
FORSA BrandControl, Frankfurt/Main
GfK, Nürnberg
infas, Bonn
rheingold, Köln
Skopos, Hürth
YouGovPsychonomics, Köln / Wien

6. Links
Focus Gropus Tip Sheet of the University of California at Berkeley [PDF, 60 KB]

7. Further reading
Babbie, Earl R. (2009): The Practice of Social Research. 12th Edition. Belmont, California (USA).

Stacks, Don W. (2002): Primer of Public Relations Research. New York.

8. Case studies

Please send us short texts from your projects on this topic in the same structure as the existing case studies, and more information (pdf or links) on the methods employed in as much detail as possible.

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