Tag Archives: focus group

[Spanish politics] Mi participación en el debate sobre las últimas elecciones gallegas

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.


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.

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 http://phdstress.com/post/81561374996/at-the-faculty-meeting

Example of focus group-based research

Case study: Faith and secularism in contemporary Britain

Questions regarding the role of religion in public life remain contested, as exemplified by recent debates on issues such as same-sex marriage, gender equality, and faith schools. While some argue that a climate of ‘militant secularism’ now means that religious groups (including Christians) can be viewed as persecuted minorities, others suggest that religion still occupies a dominant role in the political sphere. There are also inequalities between different faith groups. For example, the Church of England has automatic access to the House of Lords, while other faith groups occupy more marginal positions in the political structure. Furthermore, individuals may suffer the additional pressures of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. This case-study draws on focus group research with three faith communities in Leeds (Christian, Muslim, and Jewish) as well as with atheist groups to explore some of these issues in depth. By using various gatekeepers in different subsections of the religious communities, the research explores both inter-faith and intra-faith relations, while focusing primarily on tensions between atheist groups and various faith communities.


Source: http://livedifference.group.shef.ac.uk/?page_id=109

The role of a focus group moderator

In general, moderator should be “flexible, objective, empathic, persuasive, a good listener” (Fontana and Frey 2000, p. 652) In a ideal focus group, the moderator would just participate to put research topics. It is participants who must dominate the discussion. However, there are a number of situations where moderator should also participate.

1. To prevent single participants or small groups from dominating the discussion and encourage reserved members to become involved. You may use such sentences as “what do you think “participant´s name”?, “what do other people think about?“.

2. To reflat the discussion using provocative questions. Whenever the dicussion among participants seems not to be enough dynamic, it is the moderator who should formulate new debate-provoking questions.

3. To steering the discussion toward a deepening. Whenever research topics are covered superficially and with no further details, the moderator you formulate depth-provoking questions such as “what do you mean by…?”

Finally it is recommendable count with the support of an assistant. It allows moderator focus on managing the group and assistant to take notes.


Fontana, A., & James, H. Frey.(2000). The interview: From structured questions to negotiated text. The Handbook of Qualitative Research (2nd ed., pp. 645–672).
Thousand Oaks, London & Delhi: Sage Publications. Cited in Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited
Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited
Ibáñez, J. (1979). Más allá de la sociología: El Grupo de Discusión: teoría y crítica. Siglo XXI de España Editores.

How to design a Focus Group based research

1. How many groups are required? Organizing several groups enables trends and patterns to be identified when the data collected are analyzed (Saunders et al, 2003).  The figure may vary according to the research questions and, above all, the different population subgroups required (Morgan, 1988). However, if after the fourth group you are receiving new information it means that you have reached saturation (Krueger and Casey, 2000). Actually four or five are generally enough.

2. How many participants each? Between 4 and 8 and exceptionally up to 12. It strongly depends on three factors: skill of moderator, nature of participants, how complex the topic is.

3. How long does it take each session? From one to two hours, although it may vary according to how actives participants are. Actually, it may finish once the group has exhausted the discussion of a topic. How to know when a topic is exhausted? There are no criteria and it is the moderator who has to make his/her own decisions.

4. How to recruit participants? Focus group sampling is non-probabilistic, i.e. it does not aim to do inference afterward but just select participants from the population subgroup under study, normally your target. For instance, students from 20 to 25 years old. The selection process is commonly called “recruitment”. The person in charge of select participants, so called “recruiter” shouldn´t play the role of moderator too. The recruitment should be done by mean dial previous participants or following snowball methodology, i.e. contacting people through social networks who will lead recruiter to more people and subsequently. It is strongly recommendable to work with strangers instead of groups of friends or people who know each other very well, because the level of things taken for granted may lead to leave relevant information out (Morgan, 1988). Finally, institutional networks should be avoided.

5. What is the most appropriate location for a focus group? Neutral setting is required. Avoid noisy and crowded places that may interrupt the discussion ongoing. It is recommendable avoid saturated spaces, i.e. with many objects and staff since it may break the concentration of participants. An oval table is required. It assures that all participants can see each other and facilitate interaction. Some market research agencies count with specialized rooms for focus group. They count with viewing room next door that allows other researchers and sponsor watch the focus group. However, most of the groups are recorded both voices and video.


Krueger, R. A., & Casey, M. A. (2008). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research. SAGE Publications, Incorporated.
Morgan, D. L. (1988). Focus groups as qualitative research; Focus groups as qualitative research (No. 16). Sage Publications.
Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009

What should a focus group composition be like?

What should a focus group composition be like? Which features participants should meet? The answer of these questions depends basicly on the population group under study and the aims of the research. However, a general rule should be followed. A certain homogeneity among participants is required. What does homogeneity mean? All members share something in common. It may be a common interest (music, sport, consumers of a specific product), origin (from the same city, country or neighboorhood) or whatever other feature. Like in a group of friends or gang, this reinforces participants as a group and, consequently, leads to a greater dialogue.

However, certain heterogeneity is also necessary. If you recruit very similar participants you run the risk that the group is not dynamic enough, i.e. everyone agrees and no dialogue is generated.If you are testing a product, you might recruit both consumers and non-consumers. If homogeneity guarantees group birth, heterogeneity does its growth. In other words, the different participant´s point of view enrich the dialogue. This is not a banal issue. The existence of “conflict” among participants is a key issue to make the best of a focus group. The point is to come across a debate-provoking variable or “turning point”. It is very clear in policy testing or electoral studies. Whenever a group is composed by both right and left participants, the debate is assured.

Finally, the composition of a focus group is normally organized in a table as bellow. There you can see a number of “homogeneity” and “heterogeneity” variables. In this example, the heterogeneity or turning point (breaking point) comes from the different brand consumption variable, while age and sex would reinforce participants as a group.


Ibáñez, J. (1979). Más allá de la sociología: El Grupo de Discusión: teoría y crítica. Siglo XXI de España Editores.
Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.
Silverman, D. (2011). Interpreting qualitative data. Sage Publications Limited.

Advantages of focus group

There are a number of broad advantages to the use of the focus group. These may be summarized as follows:

1. Group basis. They are an economical way of tapping the views of a number of people, simply because respondents are interviewed in groups rather than one by one (Krueger, 1994)

2. They can provide a “safe” forum for the expression of views, e.g. respondents do not feel obliged to respond to every question (Vaughn et al., 1996)

3. Simulation of everyday interaction. Focus group provides information on the “dynamics” of attitudes and opinions in the context of the interaction that occurs between participants, in contrast to the rather static way in which these phenomena are portrayed in questionnaire (Morgan, 1988) or in-depth interview studies. Top of that, such interacion may well be comparable in any way with everyday ineraction (Flick, 2009) and this is actually the point of the focus group, i.e. a simulation of everyday reality. It is attempted to collect the data in context and to create a situation of interaction that comes closer to everyday life than in an interview.

4. They may encourage a greater degree of spontaneity in the expression of views than alternative methods of data collection (Butler, 1996)

5. Check, balance and consistence. Interaction is not only between interviewee and interviewer (moderator) but among all participants. It increases the dynamic of the discussion which favors checks and balance among participants and “weeds out false or extreme views” (Flick, 2009). Somehow they correct each other. Additionally, it may provide with greater consistence to the focus group conclusions as long as all participants agree on a specific topics.

6. Participants may feel supported and empowered by a sense of group membership and cohesiveness (Goldman, 1962)

7. Less risk of bias by the interviewer. The interaction interviewer-interviewee always drives a risk of bias. Even when interviewer has a lot of experience, the responses are sometimes affected by the mere presence of an unknown person. This risk decreases in a focus group. Despite the obvious presence of the interviewer or so called moderator, the tendency is him/her to occupy a non-predominant role. Actually the moderator´s role is rather facilitate the group own dynamic and avoid that one person dominate the discussion. It depends on the research objectives but in some cases, the less involved the moderator, the better (Ibañez, 1986).

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, most of the advantages above highlighted strongly depends on a number of issues to be cover in futures posts, such as the focus group design, group composition or the role played by the moderator. Bear in mind that a “well-conducted focus group research can determine the course of your company’s future” (Edmunds and Edmonds, 1999)


Carey, M. A. (1994). The group effect in focus groups: planning, implementing, and interpreting focus group research. Critical issues in qualitative research methods, 225-241.
Edmunds, H., & Edmonds, H. (1999). The focus group research handbook. Chicago: NTC Business Books.
Goldman, A. E. (1962). The group depth interview. The Journal of Marketing, 61-68.
Gutiérrez, J. (2008). Dinámica del grupo de discusiónCuadernos metodológicos del Centro de Investigaciones Científicas, (41).
Merton, R., Fisk, M., & Kendall, P. (1956). The focused interview: a report of the bureau of applied social research. New York: Columbia University.
Morgan, D. L. (1998). The focus group guidebook. Sage.
Ragin, C. C. (1994). Introduction to qualitative comparative analysis. The comparative political economy of the welfare state, 299, 300-9.
Vaughn, S., Schumm, J. S., & Sinagub, J. M. (1996). Focus group interviews in education and psychology. Sage.
Article updated on 24th of April 2014