Focus groups are one of the more commonly used methods in research when looking for a deeper understanding of a particular topic. Focus group discussions allow the researcher to probe both the cognitive and emotional responses of participants while observing the underlying group dynamic (Heary, Caroline, and Hennessy 2002, 48).
In depth discussion can be generated from the interaction of a group of participants, and the group dynamics can generate new and fresh thinking about a topic.
However, the “emerging group culture may interfere with individual expression, the group makes it difficult to research sensitive topics, ‘groupthink’ is a possible outcome, and the requirements for the interviewer skill are greater because of group dynamics” (Denzin, K and Lincoln. 1998, 53).
Conducting focus groups can be very costly and time-consuming, with a typical three-day trip, comprising of perhaps six groups and 18 hours of video costing almost $30,000 (Grass, 2009). Furthermore, a skilled moderator is needed to facilitate the sessions effectively.
Moderator bias in the form of personal bias and the unconscious bias in pleasing the client is also present with focus group interviews (Flores, Alonso 1995).
The cost and effort involved in conducting focus groups also lead to often small and nonrandom samples being used. This limits the generalizability of focus group findings (Stewart, Shamdasani and Rook 1990).
With surveys and one-to-one interviews, it is often possible to ensure confidentiality. However, due to the nature of focus group sessions, only limited confidentiality can be achieved. This can lead to less honest responses to more sensitive topics. Individual interviews will be more effective for that purpose. Focus groups are also not as efficient in covering depth as compared to individual interviews. This is because members may not express their honest opinions, especially when their thoughts opposed the views of another participant (Alexis 2012).
Unlike in ethnography, where ethnographers will situate themselves in the real environment, focus groups are conducted in a meeting room where participants know that they are watched. This may cause them to behave differently from how they behave when they are not watched, and affect the accuracy of the research results (Quirk 2003).
Analyzing qualitative data, particularly focus-group interviews, poses a challenge to most practitioner researchers (Rabiee 2004, 657).
Online focus groups
Companies are increasingly conducting their focus groups online. Online focus groups are similar to traditional focus groups, but instead of the moderator and participants being physically in the same room, they meet through the virtual world via computers and the Internet.
This offers several advantages. In online focus groups, the moderator and participants do not have to be at the same place. Respondents and the moderator can participate from home or their own office. This can bring significant travel cost savings, especially in cases where participants or the moderator had to travel across cities, incurring big airline, taxi, food and hotel bills. Rental costs can also be saved. Consulting companies also offer about 20% less to respondents participating in online focus groups, than if they were participating in a face-to-face session.
Another advantage is speedier turnaround. Online groups are best with 6 or 7 respondents and sessions typically last for 1 to 1.5 hours, compared to face-to-face groups utilizing 8 to 10 respondents and running from 1.5 hours to 2 hours. The availability of an immediate transcript adds to the time and cost savings. Furthermore, when respondents may have been quieter in a traditional focus group...