Friday, November 2, 2007

Rediscover the lost art of conversation

Maligning focus group has become something of a sport over the last few years.
Bad recruiting, the ‘group think’ dynamic, an unnatural discussion environment have all been given as the reasons why this research forum consistently delivers under-whelming results.

In this moderator’s opinion, the over-whelming reason why focus groups don’t provide the actionable insights and inspiration Clients and agencies need comes from the craftsman, not the tools. It is simply mediocre moderating.

Moderating is not about soliciting people’s opinions in capturing reactions, either in feelings or thoughts. Its greater value is in challenge people to engage their imaginations, to make them willing collaborators in evolving concepts, executions or positions. Too often, the focus is upon establishing what the reaction is and what drives it, without engaging participating in a ‘what-if’ type exercise.

Tapping into our imagination is something we all do in our basic experience of every day life: our perception of reality is shaped by it. And yet all too often stimuli are presented in a way which doesn’t encourage people to engage their imagination.

Perhaps the greatest flaw that comprises research value is the tendency to follow a linear line of questioning. Insights come from conversations that mirror the real –world character. They are fluid and evolve dynamically as the exchanges flow. All too often, the imposition of a rote list of questions comes from a client’s restrictive (yet understandable) desire for consistency. Yet what is gained in consistency is lost in quality of discussion because no two groups think the same way and evolve ideas in the same pre-determined order.

At OFD we’re all about maximizing the Return on Research investment. So for all clients and agencies out there here’s a list suggestions for how to get more out of a much maligned research method:

Identify a core range of ISSUES to explore not a prescriptive list of questions
This will keep the discussion focused but allow the moderator to tackle the issues in the way that make sense for the character of each group.

DON’T over fill a group with too many issues
It will compromise the key quality of focus groups which is have the time to explore issues and get a deeper understanding.

Don’t over fill a group with too many PEOPLE
Conversations are richer among discussion of six people than eight. Facility value and moderator time is not improved by talking to more people. Guaranteed, two of eight people will sit back and not say much. It means the moderator will spend more time soliciting opinions than exploring opinions, ideas and reaction, and what-ifs.

Build time in for the moderator to EXPLORE an issue ‘off topic’.
All too often, there’s a moment of magic possibility in most groups when an exciting idea emerges that hasn’t been predicted. Give the moderator the freedom to explore at least one such idea per group. It can often unlock the most powerful learning of the group. In many cases though, the opportunity is passed up by the moderator in order to follow the strict list of question.

Listen as much to what is NOT said as to what it being said.
It requires more active listening and thinking on the fly, but it can provide extraordinary insight. Once you’ve got the hang of it, after a while you will hear them as loudly and clearly as if they’d been actually said.

Pay attention to WHEN comments come up in the evening.
Avoiding group think can be challenged and minimized by a good moderator, but part of being a good back-room attendant is learning what NOT to be influenced by. For example, when the room has been discussing a topic for 20 minutes and only then do problems and issues start to emerge, these are likely to be from venturing into ‘over-think' mode rather than issues that anchor people’s reactions.

Encourage a climate of EVOLUTION

Exposing the same stimuli across multiple groups delivers consistency at the expense of maximizing return of research investment. Far better to evolve the ideas or work to leverage learning and tighten up the form for expose in later groups, than unequivocally prove why the in-going stimuli has failed.

1 comment:

El Gaffney said...

very helpful - thanks g. your suggestion of tapping the imagination should even "wake up" the focus group pros/zombies. having two repeats in car and insurance groups definitely did not sit well.