The focus group debrief

This video shows an example of focus group and, at the end, a so called debrief, i.e. a meeting held after the conduction of a focus group where both clients and researchers discuss the main results. Note that it is not entirely realistic and somewhat humorous but it lets get an overview of it.

Focus group fake ID participants

This video shows a very common mistake when conducting a focus group, i.e. recruiting frequent participants who sometimes get to play fake roles just to fit into the recruiting criteria and get paid for it. From the minute 0:41 the moderator poses a question and one of the participants seems to put his foot in and suggests that he is currently working. The moderator immediatly realized that he was supposed to be jobless according to his list of participants. The participant then try to fix it.

This video shows how a question-oriented focus group is conducted

This video shows how a question-oriented focus group is conducted. Specifically, the focus group aims to test a sauce flip top. Hence, it is a good example of focus group for market research.

What is a focus group

A focus group can be defined as a group interview centered on a specific topic and coordinated by one person, usually called moderator or facilitator. The aim of this research technique is generate primarily qualitative data, by observing and analyzing the interaction that occurs within the group.

The earliest use of this method was in a research carried out in the 1950s by the sociologist Robert Merton, considered now its founder. Actually, its invention is largely due to the limitation found in the use of in-depth interviews as the only way to obtain relevant qualitative data. Hence, the description of the focus group is usually made in comparison to one to one interviews. This idea is very well expressed by Kitzinger (1995) who defines this technique as follow:

“The idea behind the focus group method is that group processes can help people to explore and clarify their views in ways that would be less easily accessible in a one to one interview”

There are also other benefits from using focus group, some of them are covered in a previous post under the title “Advantages of focus group”. Enough to say here the minor risk of bias by the interviewer, the greater interactivity and spontaneity.

Despite the organization of a focus group may be seen as a simple meeting to discuss on a specific topic and so that doable even for non-experience researcher, its correct application strongly depends in a thorough design. Visit this post to get further details on it. Enough to say here that When setting a focus group, it is generally felt that 8-12 is a suitable number of participants (Krueger, 2008; Ibañez, 1979) Although smaller groups of 4-6 have been used, like the one carried out by Strong et al (1994)

There are different kinds of focus group. The main distinction is according to how diligent the moderator/facilitator is. This is usually connected with the research purpose. For instance, when the research is rather exploratory, the moderator will tend to formulate general questions and be open to redirect the discussion guide. Hence, his or her participation will be reduced to such role as prevent single participants from dominating the discussion, redirect the discussion in case of digression and other suggested in this previous post. It could the case that the moderator stay in a secondary plane as far as the discussion among participants is vivid and provide relevant data. On the other hand, there are also more diligent and question-oriented focus group where the role of the moderator is more visible. There are a number of questions pre-design and the moderator must pose them throughout the discussion. This is the case of this video. There it is clear how predominant the moderator role is, formulating many questions, pointing some of the participants and even standing up.

It is also common the use of projective techniques in order to explore thoughts and feelings about the subject, and in the emotional depth. Some of the techniques that may be Collage-building, Brand personification, Guided Journey or Pictorial symbols. This techniques are used extensively in exploring brand image and development of creative concepts for products/services and advertising. A few of the questions addressed in Projective Focus Groups have included: Is this the right name for the product? What feelings are evoked by our brand? By the competitor? What mood should our advertising and collateral material invoke?

Finally, the focus group as a research method, as well as the qualitative approach in general, has appreciably evolved over the last decade in terms of way it can be applied. For this reason we can also find other varieties of focus groups as the ones exposed bellow:

  • Two-way focus group – one focus group watches another focus group and discusses the observed interactions and conclusion
  • Dual moderator focus group – one moderator ensures the session progresses smoothly, while another ensures that all the topics are covered
  • Dueling moderator focus group – two moderators deliberately take opposite sides on the issue under discussion
  • Respondent moderator focus group – one and only one of the respondents are asked to act as the moderator temporarily
  • Client participant focus groups – one or more client representatives participate in the discussion, either covertly or overtly
  • Mini focus groups – groups are composed of four or five members rather than 6 to 12
  • Teleconference focus groups – telephone network is used
  • Online focus groups – computers connected via the internet are used.



Ibáñez, J. (1979). Más allá de la sociología: El Grupo de Discusión: teoría y crítica. Siglo XXI de España Editores.

Krueger, R. A., & Casey, M. A. (2008). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research. SAGE Publications, Incorporated.



Robert K. Merton, Versatile Sociologist and Father of the Focus Group


Published: February 24, 2003

Robert K. Merton, one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century, whose coinage of terms like ”self-fulfilling prophecy” and ”role models” filtered from his academic pursuits into everyday language, died yesterday. He was 92 and lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Merton gained his pioneering reputation as a sociologist of science, exploring how scientists behave and what it is that motivates, rewards, and intimidates them. By laying out his ”ethos of science” in 1942, he replaced the entrenched stereotypical views that had long held scientists to be eccentric geniuses largely unbound by rules or norms. It was this body of work that contributed to Mr. Merton’s becoming the first sociologist to win a National Medal of Science in 1994.

But his explorations over 70-odd years extended across an extraordinary range of interests that included the workings of the mass media, the anatomy of racism, the social perspectives of ”insiders” vs. ”outsiders,” history, literature and etymology. Though carried out with the detachment he admired in Emile Durkheim, the French architect of modern sociology, Mr. Merton’s inquiries often bore important consequences in real life as well as in academics.

His studies on an integrated community helped shape Kenneth Clark’s historic brief in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court case that led to the desegregation of public schools. His adoption of the focused interview to elicit the responses of groups to texts, radio programs and films led to the ”focus groups” that politicians, their handlers, marketers and hucksters now find indispensable. Long after he had helped devise the methodology, Mr. Merton deplored its abuse and misuse but added, ”I wish I’d get a royalty on it.”

He spent much of his professional life at Columbia University, where along with his collaborator of 35 years, Paul F. Lazarsfeld, who died in 1976, he developed the Bureau of Applied Social Research, where the early focus groups originated. The course of his career paralleled the growth and acceptance of sociology as a bona fide academic discipline. As late as 1939 there were fewer than a 1,000 sociologists in the United States, but soon after Mr. Merton was elected president of the American Sociological Association in 1957, the group had 4,500 members.

Mr. Merton was sometimes called ”Mr. Sociology,” and Jonathan R. Cole, a former student and the provost at Columbia, once said, ”If there were a Nobel Prize in sociology, there would be no question he would have gotten it.” (Mr. Merton’s son, Robert C. Merton, won a Nobel Prize in economics in 1997.)

Another of Mr. Merton’s contributions to sociology was his emphasis on what he termed ”theories of the middle range.” By these he meant undertakings that steered clear of grand speculative and abstract doctrines while also avoiding pedantic inquiries that were unlikely to yield significant results. What he preferred were initiatives that might yield findings of consequence and that open lines of further inquiry. In his own writings he favored the essay form, ”which provides scope for asides and correlatives,” he said, over the more common and streamlined scientific paper.

He was often came up with clearly phrased observations that combined originality with seeming simplicity. Eugene Garfield, an information scientist, wrote that much of Mr. Merton’s work was ”so transparently true that one can’t imagine why no one else has bothered to point it out.”

One early example of such illuminating insight appeared in a paper called ”Social Structure and Anomie” that he wrote as a graduate student at Harvard in 1936 and then kept revising over the next decade.

Mr. Merton had asked himself what it was that brought about anomie, a state in which, according to Mr. Durkheim, the breakdown of social standards threatened social cohesion. In a breakthrough that spawned many lines of inquiry, Mr. Merton suggested that anomie was likely to arise when society’s members were denied adequate means of achieving the very cultural goals that their society projected, like wealth, power, fame or enlightenment. Among the spinoffs of this work were Mr. Merton’s own writings on the ranges of deviant behavior and crime.

A tall, pipe-smoking scholar, Mr. Merton often used the trajectory of his life story, from slum to academic achievement, as material illustrating the workings of serendipity, chance and coincidence, which so long fascinated him.

Robert King Merton was born Meyer R. Schkolnick on July 4, 1910, in South Philadelphia; he carried that name for the first 14 years of his life. He was the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe and lived in an apartment above his father’s milk, butter and egg store until the building burned down. As a teenager performing magic tricks at birthday parties, he adopted Robert Merlin as a stage name, but when a friend convinced him that his choice of the ancient wizard’s name was hackneyed, he modified it, adopting Merton with the concurrence of his Americanizing mother after he won a scholarship to Temple University.

In a lecture to the American Council of Learned Societies in 1994, Mr. Merton said that thanks to the libraries, schools, orchestras to which he had access, and even to the youth gang he had joined, his early years had prepared him well for what he called a life of learning. ”My fellow sociologists will have noticed,” he said, ”how that seemingly deprived South Philadelphia slum was providing a youngster with every sort of capital — social capital, cultural capital, human capital, and above all, what we may call public capital — that is, with every sort of capital except the personally financial.” It is not difficult to see connections between such views and Mr. Merton’s insights into the causes of anomie.

In a 1961 New Yorker magazine profile by Morton Hunt, Mr. Merton was described as displaying ”a surprising catholicity of interests and a talent for good conversation, impaired only slightly by the fact that he is alarmingly well informed about everything from baseball to Kant and is unhesitatingly ready to tell anybody about any or all of it.”

Indeed, what is Mr. Merton’s most widely known book, ”On the Shoulders of Giants,” went far beyond the confines of sociology. Referred to by Mr. Merton as his ”prodigal brainchild,” it reveals the depth of his curiosity, the breadth of his prodigious research and the extraordinary patience that also characterize his academic writing. The effort began in 1942, when, in an essay called ”A Note on Science and Democracy,” Mr. Merton referred to a remark by Isaac Newton: ”If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” He added a footnote pointing out that ”Newton’s aphorism is a standardized phrase which has found repeated expression from at least the 12th century.”

But Mr. Merton did not stop there. Intermittently during the next 23 years he tracked the aphorism back in time, following blind alleys as well as fruitful avenues and finally finished the book in 1965, writing in a discursive style that the author attributed to his early reading and subsequent rereadings of Laurence Sterne’s ”Tristram Shandy.” Denis Donoghue, the critic and literary scholar, wrote of the book admiringly as ”an eccentric and yet concentric work of art, a work sufficiently flexible to allow a digression every 10 pages or so.” He admitted, ”I wish I had written ‘On the Shoulders of Giants.’ ”

More recently, over the last three and a half decades, Mr. Merton had been gathering information about the idea and workings of serendipity, and thinking about it in the same spirit in which he had written the earlier book, which he liked to call by its acronym, OTSOG. As he had done with all his investigations, he collated and pondered data he had entered on index cards. Most days he started work at 4:30 a.m., with some of his 15 cats keeping him company. During the last years of his life, as he fought and overcame six different cancers, his Italian publisher, Il Mulino, prevailed on him to allow them to issue his writings on serendipity as a book. And four days before his death, his wife, the sociologist Harriet Zuckerman, received word that Princeton University Press had approved publication of the English version under the title, ”The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity.”

In addition to Ms. Zuckerman and his son, Mr. Merton is survived by two daughters, Stephanie Tombrello of Pasadena, Calif., and Vanessa Merton of Hastings-on-Hudson; nine grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Photo: Robert Merton coined sociological terms that became household words. (Michael Shavel, 1995)

Article retrieved from here

This is what happens when a focus group does not work out


Source: PhD Stress blog (2014) Retrieved from

Mobile apps for online qualitative research

Today I stumbled across this innovative application for online qualitative research. It powers a range of ‘conversation & observation’ activities such one to ones, auto ethnography and group discussions, among others. The application is run by Liveminds and offers a demo request.