Behind the Mirror: Effective Focus Group Observation

Behind the Mirror - Focus Group Observation

Observing a focus group is more than just listening to what respondents say; it’s understanding what they are saying in the right context.   Focus groups enable us to understand not just what respondents say, but why they’re saying it.

It is important to know how to accurately interpret what’s being shared and, at times, what’s not being shared during a focus group discussion.   At Consumer Opinion Services, we have developed some key tips to keep in mind while observing focus groups.

Qualitative Research


Focus groups are qualitative research.   Their purpose is to discover drivers and the motivation behind people’s feelings, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.   A main feature of focus group discussions are the group interactions among the participants.  Focus Groups enable in-depth discussions among the participants that can generate and reveal hidden insights into people’s opinions and behaviors.


  • Don’t jump to conclusions immediately after a respondent speaks; comprehensive, thorough, and experienced analysis of focus groups are critical to ensuring accurate findings.
  • Focus Groups are qualitative in nature, so it is important to remember that the data collected will not yield statistically robust findings and should not be applied to a large population.

On Location AV services


The moderator plays a key role in the success of the focus group.  An experienced moderator will encourage maximum participation from each individual and will exercise a degree of unobtrusive control over the focus group session and its participants.  Their job is to guide the discussion; eliciting responses from quiet respondents, toning down strong personalities, and even being the devil’s advocate.


  • Trust the moderator’s choice of facilitation and direction. Be cautious not to prejudge the moderator’s behavior.
  • As the moderator improvises, some lines of questioning may strike you as unproductive, but they actually reveal a lot. Allow the discoveries to unravel; try not to presume which questions are valuable.

Focus Group - Respondents


Focus groups are a great way to get immediate feedback, but it takes time for people to open up, so don’t expect every moment of each group to be meaningful.   A fair bit of time is devoted to the moderator encouraging and building rapport with respondents in order to set the perfect stage for the discussion to transpire.


  • Don’t forget to consider non-verbal cues. People say a lot without saying anything at all.
    Non-verbal behavior can speak volumes, but be careful to consider it within the context of the situation e.g.  folded arms can be either discomfort with the topic or the respondent is simply cold.
  • Many people have unformed opinions, and they may feel strongly about their ideas or opinions even though the ideas and/or opinions may lack logic. Try to understand their perspective without deeming them or their opinions as “right” or “wrong”.
  • Interpretation can be challenging, aim to present the meaning of the data rather than simply summarizing the data. Be careful and avoid bringing in your own biases into the process of interpretation.

Moderation and Moderator services


Hearing honest feedback can be powerful, but it can also be painful at times…especially when it’s different from your own perceptions or hypothesis.   The true value of a focus group is to hear the honest truth, and not just listen to the parts that resonate best with your own opinions or expectations.


  • It’s important to listen to every opinion voiced in the focus group and not dismiss the feedback or opinions that may differ from what we want or were expecting to hear.
  • Watching a focus group requires that you be open-minded, unbiased, and objectively process what you’re hearing.  It’ll help you to truly get the most out of the discussion.

Multi Mode services


Careful and systematic analysis of the discussions provides clues and insights as to how the research topics were perceived by the group.  Focus groups will often have a couple respondents with completely different opinions than everyone else.   Keep in mind that their opinions are just that – the opinions of a couple people, and are not necessarily representative of a larger population.


  • When assessing focus groups, we have to ask, “What’s the general consensus?” or “Is there an overall lack of consensus?” The answers to these questions are usually the key findings within the research.
  • Key findings are often those that occur independently in separate sessions, so best practices dictate that a minimum of two sessions should be conducted on any given project.

Diamond In The Rough


Sometimes, a respondent might mention something completely unique or profound.   These golden nuggets are important to consider…in the correct context.  Opinions and Feedback like this can give us great insight into what other areas researchers can explore further.


  • Be cautious on making decisions based on the feedback of just one person – especially if it also represents a reflection of your own point-of-view.