Great communication starts with listening. Through focus groups and interviews, we can deeply listen to communities' thoughts, feelings, and opinions to develop messages and campaigns that have a real impact.
The past 18 months have shifted much of our lives online, and in our area of research and insight, we've been helping more and more local authorities find unique ways to engage, and in many cases, introduce virtual engagement for the first time.
So, if you too are looking to introduce or improve your online focus groups or interviews, we've pulled together five reasons why you should.
1. Don't expect people to come to you
While a larger sample size will generally give you a clearer picture of your audience than a small one, a typical focus group needs only 6-8 people to get helpful information as they are more in-depth than surveys. However, you may need to conduct them several times to get the ideal mix of information you are after.
The easiest way to connect with anyone is to be where they are, and the internet makes connecting with local participants more effortless than ever. Reducing barriers, like getting a bus to the local community hall in the cold, will undoubtedly help you recruit. Online focus groups are suited for most people and age groups - anyone can take part simply by sitting in their home, at the kitchen table with a cup of tea or kicking back in their favourite lounge. It's also much easier for observers too.
2. In the moment and automated
Capture thoughts in the moment and get immediate automated insight, including quotes and even video snippets to bring your findings to life.
Focus groups and interviews are based on a set of questions or discussion points. Sometimes they might include visual concepts and even product samples to trial. They let us explore people's opinions and attitudes, and with that comes the detail. Traditionally, recording answers from the interviews and conversations involves sound recorders and reams of written notes, typically taking hours to process.
Now there are platforms and software that helps us capture thoughts in real-time, so we finish focus groups with immediate and automated insights, including quotes and even video snippets that bring the findings to life.
3. Sensitive or shy? No problem
Talking about sensitive topics can be intimidating in a group setting – especially face to face. When in a room with a moderator and a group of peers, participants may feel pressured to give 'socially acceptable answers' rather than share how they actually feel about a topic. Importantly, these are some of the most critical perspectives for local authorities to capture. Providing an online setting where participants can write down their answers to these questions completely anonymously can provide participants with an important outlet to express how they think and feel – and allows local authorities to get essential feedback on important topics.
4. Greater interaction
Online focus groups are often better at engaging participants. In face to face focus groups, typically, only one participant can speak at a time. In contrast, online focus groups can include activities that all participants can participate in at once. This means less downtime for participants and staying interested in the topics throughout the focus group.
It's also much easier to run dynamic content such as video. This approach is often more authentic to how participants consume this type of content – online via their screens. No one misses the faff of setting up projectors or using tablets for website testing.
5. Quick and good value
With limited resources and relentless deadlines, standout features of online focus groups are how fast they are to set up and run. They are also much more cost-effective than a face to face group, with no venue, refreshment or travel costs.
Local authorities always have a vital role in equipping their areas for the future. Whether it's tackling the climate emergency, regenerating housing estates or revitalising town centres, there is a substantial change underway or on the horizon.
From engaging with communities at the ideas stage and researching what local people think, meaningful two-way conversations are vital for councils to bring their communities with them.
There are challenges with all methodologies, and online focus groups are not a silver bullet for qualitative research. Still, we have a track record of helping the public sector get the most out of listening to local audiences.
Author: Jen Compton is an experienced Research Director having worked across research, engagement and data analysis methodologies in the public and charity sectors for the last 15 years. She has particular expertise in the local government research arena, and has worked on campaigns on areas such as reputation, leisure and sports, housing, infrastructure and public realm, environmental and social services.
Put online focus groups in your 2022 research toolkit. Learn more about our approach and how we can help, via the button below.