At the suggestion of my advisor I will be conducting a focus group session as the main means of collecting some research data for a project. It’s time to take a look at this method which is so prevalent in the marketing and advertising industry but in my experience not so prevalent in mine.
Powell et al define a focus group as
a group of individuals selected and assembled by researchers to discuss and comment on, from personal experience, the topic that is the subject of the research. (1996: 499)
This definition is taken from an informative article aptly entitled Focus Groups found in Social Research Update. Jacob Neilson chimes in with another article with an equally original title,Focus Groups. He says,
Although focus groups can be a powerful tool in system development, you shouldn’t use them as your only source of usability data. People with an advertising or marketing background often rely solely on focus groups to expose products to users. Thus, because advertising and marketing people frequently contribute to web site development, focus groups are often used to evaluate Web projects. Unfortunately, focus groups are a rather poor method for evaluating interface usability.
Carter McNamara has a short article entitled Basics of Conducting Focus Groups which gives a concise guide to conducting the focus group session. Last but not least Market Navigation has a large collection of articles on the topic. The page is titled Qualitative Research: Telephone Focus Groups, Face-to-Face Focus Groups but it covers a whole range of issues about focus groups in general.