It is no secret how efficient focus group discussions are in product and service research and development. After all, you’ll be able to get the opinions of the ideal members of your target market.
I have been participating in focus groups since my college days, but it wasn’t until I experienced being on the other side of the discussion (as a facilitator) did I truly understand the mechanics of these research sessions.
I was already aware of the role that participants play in focus group discussions, something that I will also be discussing in a bit, but I have failed to acknowledge back then how crucial the other roles were. That there are other people involved in a focus group discussion beyond just the facilitator and participants. And that each of them is equally important for a successful session.
Today, I will share with you the different focus group roles and their responsibilities. In this way, you’ll be able to form a better team for all your market research sessions in the future.
The Participants and the Facilitator: The Main Characters
First of all, there are two main characters in focus group discussions: the participants and the facilitator.
A participant is preferably an ideal target customer of the company holding the session. Their role is to provide their honest and unbiased opinion regarding the products and services in question.
Meanwhile, the facilitator’s role is to moderate the discussion by asking the right questions and encouraging participants to explain their answers further. They may also propose an activity to shake the discussion up a bit. Then, get answers coming from a different perspective.
As mentioned, though, these are not the only characters at play during a focus group discussion. In fact, there are several supporting side characters that make a session all the more effective.
The Supporting (Yet Equally Important) Side Characters and Their Roles
Below are the roles and responsibilities of the other characters in focus group discussions.
There are times when focus group sessions get so lively and animated that not even the best facilitator can keep track of everything that’s happening. This typically happens during sessions that exceed eight participants.
Just like facilitators, a co-moderator can also ask questions and request participants to expand on their answers. However, the facilitator will still get the final say on where to lead the discussion and which topics or points to pursue.
In the absence of a recorder, the co-moderator will also be in charge of keeping track of the conversation.
Speaking of which, the recorder is another critical role in a focus group discussion. I’ve noticed that recorders are frequently under-appreciated, though. It seems that many people mistake recorders for only serving clerical purposes, such as taking down minutes and making sure that the recording tool is functioning.
In reality, though, a recorder actually carries a heavy responsibility. They must be highly skilled to make the most of their roles. For instance, a recorder must understand the dynamics of the conversation.
They must be quick to transcribe key quotes and phrases in case the recording tool lapses. Finally, an excellent recorder can observe and understand non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language.
What happens to all the transcribed information? That’s the role that a data analyst needs to fill.
They are skilled in analyzing discussion patterns, recurring themes, and other forms of information gathered during the session. More importantly, they should also be able to interpret what these data mean in relation to the context of the focus group session.
It doesn’t necessarily follow that a person skilled in interpreting data is also good at putting it into words and expressing them in a way that business owners can understand easily.
That’s the job of a report writer: to weave the details together in a coherent and accurate report.
Everything will be for naught if you don’t have participants, right? That’s why a recruiter also serves a crucial role in focus group discussions.
Curiously, recruiters are also commonly undervalued. One common misconception is that participants are easy to come by given the number of people who want to take part in focus group discussions. However, that’s not entirely true.
Recruiting for a focus group may not be as simple as you think. First of all, there are still lots of people who are unaware of what a focus group discussion is, nor its potential to earn them some money on the side.
Aside from that, each session requires a specific type of “ideal customer”. Some target demographics are more challenging to find compared to others. Take, for instance, people who enjoy playing mobile games as opposed to those who drive luxury vehicles.
Finally, they also need to make sure that their potential recruits actually show up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in focus group sessions that fell apart due to the number of no-shows.
Speaking of no-shows, one of the main reasons most participants fail to attend sessions is due to conflicts within their schedules. Do not underestimate the challenge of determining everyone’s availability.
A scheduler also needs to learn how to be a team player. After all, they’ll be working closely with the recruiter and the logistics manager as well.
Aside from the schedule of the people involved, a scheduler ensures the session coincides with the venue and necessary equipment’s availability. Finally, they also need the patience and perseverance to remind and follow up on everyone regarding their commitment.
Lastly, let’s not forget the person in charge of putting together all the elements required to hold a focus group session. It includes the following:
- Getting the Venue Reserved: A focus group session can take place wherever the business owner or head researcher sees fit. Focus group discussions are typically held in controlled market research facilities, though.
- Making Sure All the Needed Equipment and Materials Are in Place: This also means printing sign-in sheets, creating name tags, testing recording equipment, and readying refreshments.
- Ensuring That Everyone Gets Compensated: Finally, the logistics manager is responsible for putting together “thank you gifts”, handing out payments, and just making sure that everyone is fairly compensated for their time.
Do I Really Need Everyone?
Before I end this quick guide, I just like to address one of the most frequently asked questions I get regarding focus group roles and responsibilities: “Do I really need everyone?”.
The answer? Yes and no.
Yes, each role must be fulfilled to increase your focus group sessions’ efficiency and success rate. On the other hand, it also doesn’t mean that these roles should be limited to one person.
It is definitely possible for a person to take on multiple roles, especially if they’re highly skilled. Just keep in mind that the more roles a person plays, the less efficient they will also become for each of them.
I have played a lot of roles in focus group discussions already. I’ve been a participant countless times.
I’ve experienced serving first as a co-moderator. Later on, as a facilitator for various friends, family, and clients.
I have also dabbled in report writing a couple of times, though I admit, I still have a lot of analytical and interpretation skills to refine further.
At the very least, though, I know this much is true: that focus group sessions are more complex than what most people seem to think. It requires an ecosystem of various characters to succeed.
More importantly, I hope that listing down who these characters are will help you form your focus group. After all, you don’t really need the services of a market research company to hold a session. All you need are skilled people willing to take on the roles and responsibilities listed above. Good luck!
I am a father to a beautiful baby girl, a husband and a serial gigster 🙂 I live in Toronto, Canada. My claim to fame: I made thousands of dollars from focus groups and surveys over the last 15 years. Studied Marketing in Ryerson Univerity and worked in Marketing and Marketing Research for the last 14 years+ My mission is to educate others how to be successful with side hustles. You can contact my be email or on Facebook.