Just back from the AQR/QRC Worldwide Qualitative Conferencein Barcelona. Some great papers and fabulous networking and drinking with the cream of qualitative researchers from the UK, USA and rest of world.
Caroline Hayter (Acacia Avenue) and I gave a paper called the ‘Focus Group is Dead, Long Live the Focus Group’. Caroline was arguing that we need to look at doing different things with the group format. There is no reason why it has to be 8 people. I was arguing that groups are great 1. because it is useful to see how the herd influences each other, to use co-creation and 2. because researchers like them. At the end of the day clients aren’t buying people’s responses. They are renting a researcher’s brain for the insights they will bring.
My other point was that if you analyse most of the attacks on focus groups they boil down to 1. False oppositions (“ethnography is great, therefore groups are stale”) and 2. An emotional dislike of sitting in a dark claustrophobic viewing space for an evening with a growing resentment of that woman in the yellow top. It’s much easier in front of the glass! The viewing experience is difficult and often depersonalising, not unlike Milgram’s experiments.
I used this image from the excellent Jason Oke’s Blog. I met Jason at one of Faris’ Beerspheres. He’s a great guy who started one of the most interesting blog threads of last year but his visual perspective on groups here is very revealing.
The ‘back room culture’ of institutionalized dehumanizing needs to be stopped. Out front the focus group is fine (and incidentally Jason most of our participants go away more engaged with the brand they’ve been discussing.) It is the viewing group in the back which needs methodological innovations.
How about removing alcohol from the room? Having a quiz, to maintain attention? Or better still not having a team behind the mirror, forcing them to watch by video link from the office? Or even better why not stop using viewing facilities?
When I started, virtually all groups took place in a recruiter’s home. The very first specialist studio opened in London in 1984. Today, 60% of groups (and 90% of the ones clients see) are estimated to take place in one.
I was doing some research last year for a Copenhagen based e-commerce brand. The groups were in-home near Reading. At the last minute two of the groovy young Danes said they would like to attend. They flew in, sat behind the sofa, were enthralled throughout, chatted to participants at the end and raved about this innovative new methodology being so much more rewarding than boring old viewing studios!
On the day our talk was a bit rushed because naughty Peter Cooper used twice his allocated time despite Philly holding up a sign saying STOP NOW! Funny how often speakers still do that.
The AQR has asked us to repeat this talk back in London later in the year.
Judie Lannon should be writing the official blog here
If you’d like a copy of our paper please get in touch.