No methodology in the madness

Referring to your “Refocus groups” feature (MW last week), perhaps one might write off that silly banner headline as mere journalistic license.

Nevertheless, it is silly because what the article describes is not some wholesale replacement for “group discussions” (I prefer this term to the more trendy “focus groups”), but greater use of methodologies that, in some circumstances, are more appropriate than “group discussions”.

Group discussions still have their place alongside these other methodologies. The problem is that some research agencies (and more importantly, their clients, who apply pressure on the agencies) think “focus groups” are the only way to get good data from consumers.

Richard Woods’ conclusions about the limited use of groups also deserve comment. If qualitative groups often reflect the expectations of the researcher and the researched, it is because they are either being inappropriately used, or are being conducted by people with little or no formal psychology training in the exercise of group psychoanalysis.

There are three basic types of qualitative research you can buy from a research agency: poor (they peel away the first skin of the onion and stop), quite good (they peel away several skins of the onion) and very good/excellent (they get close to or right into the heart of the subject).

In my experience, most agencies employ researchers who are capable of only “quite good” group discussions. This isn’t a case of “you get what you pay for”. It’s more about ensuring your team has the right qualifications and experience. That doesn’t always have to cost an arm and a leg – not if you know what you are buying.

Graham Nelson

Senior research manager



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