Focus groups became a popular way of conducting research when they were commonly used by government agencies during the 1990s. Focus groups can be used by companies and organisations launching a new product or those researching people's attitudes towards larger philosophical and social issues facing society. Significant benefits can be gained from focus groups, including insights into the way particular groups of people feel about subjects and products.
Focus groups are a small group of people from the same social or ethnic background who will discuss their attitudes towards questions or statements made by a moderator. Conversations with group members are usually taped, to be transcribed and examined by experts; using a small number of participants allows the focus group moderator to ensure all the people involved in the group have an opportunity to have their say and put their views across.
When moderated successfully, a focus group can provide a diverse view of a product or particular subject. When a group begins discussing a subject, individual participants have the opportunity to offer their own insights and observations; additionally, the ways in which participants communicate with each other gives the moderators insights into the dynamics of group interaction,. Members of the group can begin to trust the moderators if the questions asked lead them into a discussion and facilitate a deeper understanding of other points of view. When used during the development and research of a product, the researchers can uncover important ideas and views from the general public about the quality of the proposed product or service.
Before conducting the focus groups the organisers typically determine what type of material and research it wishes the participants to discuss. Determining which data is important in providing clear guidelines and promoting a better understanding of the product or issue being researched. In terms of education, the use of focus groups can be beneficial, as the type of information uncovered by a focus group can provide insights previously not considered by researchers. Another benefit of focus groups is that they can give a voice to those who previously felt their ideas and thoughts had no form of expression, according to the University of Surrey.
Problems can present themselves when a focus group is used for research purposes. Some people may feel uncomfortable about expressing opinions in a group setting;; if other members of the focus group become dominant and overbearing they can lead others into expressing the same opinions as themselves. A strong moderator is required to ensure each person has their opinions heard and a single voice does not dominate the group.
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