Confession: until I read about focus groups as a qualitative research method this week, I had a very narrow understanding of what they entail. It’s easy to picture the market research version of a focus group, a la Mad Men, in which there is a two-way mirror and participants are allowed to speak exclusively to the moderator—and only when prompted—about their preferences for shaving cream or ice cream or the “new and improved” flip cap on their acne cream. But that format is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to focus groups.
I had no idea that focus groups could be interactive, let alone that one of their strengths lies in the potential for discourse among participants. What a brilliant concept! Admittedly, the analyst in me shudders a little when considering the literal impossibility of coding and deciphering the layers of rich data researchers could collect under these circumstances. But if “real world” results are what you’re looking for, I can’t imagine a better research method than one where participants interact and exhibit their natural social behaviors before your very eyes (unless participants didn’t know they were being observed … but that would be unethical).