Focus groups have been used for decades by researchers when they need to explore topics before conducting survey research. Competitive Edge uses them to conduct qualitative research, mainly to explore topics of interest among voters, consumers, organization members, stakeholders and other segments of the population. Unlike quantitative research, focus groups lack reliable precision, but skilled moderators use them to improve a subsequent quantitative study by getting everything related to an issue or problem “out on the table.” Competitive Edge typically recommends employing focus groups at the outset of an important research project when relatively little is known about the topic or the language that surrounds it. Focus groups can also be used when surveying the population is impractical. Although there are many variations, such as in-depth interviews, dyads and tryads, focus groups usually involve eight to 10 individuals participating in a moderated live discussion.
Competitive Edge handles all aspects of the focus group process, including moderation. This starts with setting up the goals and parameters of study. Together with the client, we craft the discussion guide that will be used to frame the group discussion. Competitive Edge develops a recruitment screener and then recruits focus group members, using our proprietary database of pre-screened participants in San Diego County. Importantly, these residents are generally selected at random to guard against the problem of “the professional participant.”
Competitive Edge’s headquarters contains a state-of-the-art focus group facility with high-resolution audio and video as well as onsite and remote viewing availability for clients. We handle every aspect of the process, including refreshments for participants and clients, stipends, reminder calls, and two-way electronic communication between the client and moderator.
John Nienstedt, Competitive Edge’s president, moderates focus groups both in San Diego and throughout the country. He chose to take on this responsibility after years of hiring dozens of moderators, managing and watching thousands of focus group sessions, and writing hundreds of reports. John’s sessions—on topics including healthcare, politics, development issues, film, transportation, and energy—typically produce useful insights due to meticulous preparation, a thorough understanding of the topic, and his ability to establish rapport with participants. It’s not uncommon for participants to ask to stay or be called back because they enjoyed the experience of conveying their opinions so much. Clients, therefore, come away with much richer data.
The final steps of the focus group process are a debriefing with the client after the sessions followed by a detailed report. The written report contains the verbatim highlights of the group discussion, analysis of each subject area, recommendations and statistical analysis, charts and graphs as necessary. Typical Competitive Edge focus group reports run 20 pages, and are packed with a wealth of ideas for subsequent research as well as many insights that can be implemented immediately.
As with our quantitative surveys, our qualitative work is done with the objective of providing the client (and the researcher) with the insight needed to win, in whatever context they find themselves. Competitive Edge’s focus group services not only enable us to advise our clients on how to communicate confidently, but also enable us to conduct superior opinion research.
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