Focus groups in qualitative research

What is the role of focus groups in qualitative research? They are a key method of qualitative research, relied on to gather thoughts and opinions on a product, topic or project. And they do this in a cost-effective and time-efficient way.

If you are thinking about using a focus group for your market research, Acumen are an award winning qualitative research agency. Please get in touch with us for a quote and advice on using focus groups.


If you’d like to understand more about using focus groups in qualitative research, this guide covers:

  • What are focus groups?
  • How focus groups work
  • Why are they so good for qualitative research?
  • When to use a focus groups
  • Work with us on focus group research


What are focus groups?

Put simply, focus groups are used to collect data through group interaction. They are usually made up of a small number of people who’ve been carefully selected. At Acumen we are experts in fieldwork and finding participants for focus groups who match our client’s criteria. 

We have a specialism in Healthcare, where sensitivity is called for around participants’ medical conditions. We have an extensive database of participants, and our exclusive method of screening called the Acumonitor.

Once the participants of the focus group are assembled, they discuss a topic as a group, with a moderator or facilitator asking pre-set questions, as well as follow-up questions based on what arises in the discussions.

Focus groups can identify and explore how people think as well as how they behave. Typically, focus groups shed light on ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions that are the hallmark of qualitative research.


How focus groups work

According to Wikipedia, Focus groups first started in the US in the 1940s for market research into radio soap operas. The way of running a focus group has not changed too much over the decades. The only difference is the popularity in recent  years of online or Zoom focus groups.

A small group of people, generally between 6 and 10, are selected for the group. It’s usual that they have some characteristics in common – for example, they all work in a specific field or are of similar age, income bracket or come from the same location.

They are assembled in the same venue at the same time, with a facilitator who puts the questions to the group, and may ask additional questions to encourage discussion or probe a line of conversation further.

This type of group work, usually for a limited period of time, has traditionally been quite cost effective. Opinions of multiple people can be gathered at the same time, with just one researcher. The costs are typically lower than one-to-one interviews. 

The rising popularity of virtual focus groups, where the session is conducted online, makes the process even cheaper and simpler. There are no transport and venue costs. And there are fewer risks of participants not attending.


Why are focus groups good for qualitative data?

The key advantage of the focus group method is that group dynamics can help people to explore and clarify their views, in ways that would be less easily done in a one-to-one interview.

Working in a group means people can bounce ideas off each other. They develop lines of thinking, and come up with fresh ideas and insights. The researcher can see consensus forming on certain topics, which can be valuable for products that are not yet in the market. 

They can hear the reasoning behind sentiment as people make their case to the others. They can observe emotions and the body language of the participants. 

While one-to-one interviews are good for some of this too, focus groups stand out for having the added advantage of collaboration. The group setting is usually  a creative space where thoughts and ideas are sparked in ways that may not occur when people are on their own.


When to use a focus group

To explore findings of existing research further
Focus groups are considered a good way of probing research findings that you already have. So, for example, if a survey of 1,000 people indicates broad sets of preferences, you could assemble 6-10 of the survey participants to ask them why they gave the answers they did. This research offers a deeper understanding of the findings. The verbatims from focus groups can really shed light on why would-be customers feel the way they do. It adds a human voice to the data in the survey.

To avoid ‘response bias’

Response bias is when the interviewee gives answers that they think will please the interviewer. It can be an outcome of one-to-one interviews, but is less likely to happen in a group situation. However, be aware that people are more likely to be swayed by groups. Skilled facilitators should ensure that all participants have a voice in discussions within focus groups.

To save money

Other forms of quantitative research such as in-home research, interviews and accompanied shops are time intensive and tend to be more costly. Focus groups typically run for about 90 minutes, and – particularly when they are conducted online – they are an efficient and effective way to gather quantitative data.


Work with us on focus groups research

Acumen are specialists in qualitative market research. Our fieldwork team has won awards in best data collection (face to face) and innovation. We work to the highest quality standards, and enjoy building long-lasting relationships with our clients. Here are some of the advantages of working with us on your focus groups qualitative research:

  • We can advise you on your brief and the best methods of research for your project. 
  • We have extensive databases of research participants and recruit to match specific and even niche criteria. 
  • We will create questionnaires, source venues and facilitate focus groups. 
  • We’ve got years of experience working with big brands, large agencies and boutique market research companies. 

Please contact us for a quote or more information on focus groups in qualitative research. We’d love to work with you to make your research project a success.