What is it?

A focus group is a qualitative research technique designed to gather rich insight about a target segment you’re interested in.

Why use it?

Focus groups are ideal for exploring important and complex topics in detail. It’s a good tool to gain a rich understanding of people’s perceptions and motivations, their thought processes, the issues that are important to them and how they view the world.

Before you start

Is this tool right for you? To find out more about selecting the best tool, check out the project planner.

What you'll need

Time1 day to prepare, 3 weeks lead time, 4 hours to deliver, 4 hours for reflection.
BudgetIncentive budget (check out the Encourage Participation Guide for estimates) + catering costs + room hire (if needed) + facilitator (if needed).
EquipmentA meeting room, notepad or laptop for note taking, paper, textas, pens, stimulus material, audio recording device, consent forms, sign-in sheet, name tags, Focus Group Discussion Guide, butchers paper on stands or stuck to the wall (if needed), refreshments, incentives

Top tip: Embrace awkward silences! When facilitating a group, let your participants fill the gaps in the conversation. That’s where you’ll find the ‘gold’.

Step by step

1. Establish your areas of enquiry

Firstly, take a moment to consider the topics that you would like to explore in the focus group. Most focus groups are 90 minutes in duration. This allows time to explore 3-4 key areas of enquiry. Below are some examples:

  • Perceptions of brand
  • Programming ideas
  • Feedback on the booking process.

You can read more examples in the discussion guide template.

2. Define your target participants

Once you know what areas you’re going to explore it’s time to define your target participants. You might want to understand a key demographic segment, or a group who exhibit a particular behaviour, or a combination of the two. Here are some examples:

  • Young people who live locally but have never attended
  • Frequent ticket buyers who are female.

You’ll also need to think about how you’ll access this group. Below are some examples:

  • Ticketing database
  • E-newsletter subscribers
  • Facebook fans – followers and likes.

Reach out to your networks or groups in your community to find new ways to reach people who you’re not already connected with. As a starting point, try your local council: they may have specific contacts who represent groups in your community e.g. they may also have existing reference groups for young people.

Consider hiring a recruiter who can both find the people in your community you wish to speak to and manage the recruitment process for you. Note, though, that a recruiter comes at a significant cost – about $80 per person.

Lastly, you’ll need to design an incentive to entice people to attend. Read more about this in the encourage participation guide.

3. Schedule the session

Consider what time and place is likely to suit your target audience best:

  • For mothers of young children, morning tea is a good time.
  • Professionals prefer to meet after work in a central location.

Think carefully about the timing in relation to your activities. For instance, if you’re gathering feedback on a recent experience, the discussion should be scheduled soon afterwards while the experience is still fresh in their minds.

Book a meeting room and make arrangements for catering.

4. Invite participants

Next, prepare your invitations to be sent out by email using this invitation template. Be sure to mention five points:

  • Why you’re doing the research and how you’ll use the findings
  • What you’re offering participants (e.g. incentive, free parking, catering)
  • Where and when the group is taking place and how long it will take
  • What to expect
  • How participants can register for the group and notify you about their requirements i.e. access and dietary requirements.

You can read more about motivating attendance in the encourage participation guide.

5. Select a facilitator and prepare a discussion guide

Facilitating a focus group is a skill that takes time to develop. When appointing a facilitator, consider choosing someone that has the following three qualities:

  • Can be impartial and independent
  • Can confidently manage a discussion so that they hear from everyone – not just the loudest person
  • Can think on their feet about when to probe more deeply and when to move the discussion on.

You can hire a facilitator to run the focus group discussion for you; however, this can be at a considerable cost (in the hundreds of dollars).

If you or a member of your team will facilitate the discussion, consider attending a short course or training to build your facilitation skills. Practice running a focus group with members of your team or trusted colleagues. To find out more about the skill of facilitation, read our Asking Questions Guide.

Use the discussion guide template to select questions and exercises relevant to your areas of enquiry.

You’ll need to create consent forms and a sign-in sheet using the consent template and sign-in sheet template.

At this point, you’ll also need to think about privacy and access. Make sure you understand your privacy obligations using this privacy guide. You can read about how to make your project accessible for everyone using this accessibility guide.

6. Set up for your group

On the day of the group, start setting up at least an hour before people arrive. Some things to set up include:

  • Consent forms (one copy for participants and one copy for your records)
  • Sign-in sheet
  • Name tags
  • Paper and pencils for each participant
  • Focus group discussion guide for the facilitator
  • 2 x recording devices
  • Textas and pens
  • Butchers paper on stands or stuck to the wall, if needed
  • Notebook for note taking
  • Refreshments
  • Incentives ready to distribute at the end of the session.

7. Conduct the discussion

Using your tailored discussion guide, lead the group through the discussion. Keep track of time so you know when to delve deeper and when to move things along. Take short notes during the discussion, so you can easily remember and refer back to the key points.

At the end of the discussion thank participants for their time and remind them of what will happen from here. Distribute the incentives and any other materials. Ask them to initial the sign-in sheet to acknowledge they received their incentive. See them safely out.

8. Reflect on your findings

After your participants leave, jot down some notes while the discussion is fresh in your mind. Consider three points:

  • What are the top three things to come out of the discussion?
  • What was surprising?
  • What points do you need to relay to other people you work with?

To document your findings in a report, head to the write a report tool.