Having recently had the opportunity to take part in a qualitative training day focusing on moderating skills, hosted by Joanna at QualitativeMind, it’s fair to say I learnt a lot. The session started off with a quote:
“Interviewing is rather like a marriage: everybody knows what it is, an awful lot of people do it, and yet behind each closed door, there is a world of secrets.” (Oakley, 1981)
This certainly rang true as the day went on. There really are a lot of unknowns/secrets to interviewing and moderating; it’s not just about having a conversation. There is the role of the moderator, as well as each respondent and the group dynamics, to think about. So how can you ensure you are getting the most out of your focus group?
Manage your biases
As the moderator, you are the research instrument and need to manage your biases. The best thing to do is go into the group thinking you know nothing about the topic in-hand and the respondents will tell you everything you need to know.
Lay down the rules in your introduction
The introduction is the part of the focus group to primarily introduce yourself, your company, the purpose of the research, the Code of Conduct, the purpose of recording and health and safety, for example. However, this is also the time to lay down the rules. Clearly state your role is to ask questions, manage the time and move on if necessary. As the moderator you need to hold the power and refer back to what you stated in the introduction when time is running away with you, or even with a difficult respondent who won’t stop talking!
Focus your attention on the respondents
Attention on the respondents is key. Everyone craves attention (even in a focus group setting) – we’re only human after all! Acknowledge and value their emotions (this can be done by a simple nod). Try not to spend time in your head framing the next question, which is difficult but I’ve been assured practice will aid with this. Focus your complete attention on the respondents, even if you make a mistake they will still feel heard and valued.
You need to stay as neutral as possible. This means you should avoid leading questions, offering your own opinions and giving examples. Again this is easier said than done but staying neutral will get the best results out of the group for your client.
The average attention span is 10-20 minutes. Not long is it? As well as changing topics, getting respondents to do things (not just talk about things) will help keep their attention. Stimulus can include mood boards, mapping exercises or drawings. However, a simple post-it note and getting respondents to write things down can prove just as effective. Changing the method of expression can really help with bringing quiet, disengaged respondents back into the group.
Although there is a lot to think about, the most important learning I took from this training was to be yourself and find the technique that suits you. Once you have understood the theory and the skills of interviewing and moderating, you can apply it. It just takes practice.
Blog by Lauren Harris, Research Assistant, Research by Design