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Secrets of conducting successful depth interviews (20 Jun 08)

They’re a hugely valuable research method, but how many people clearly understand their true benefits - or how to conduct them?

The last ten years have seen huge growth in the use of focus groups by the public sector. No wonder, since they can be such a powerful research tool for some very good reasons.

Service providers have been desperate to get behind the numbers of quantitative surveys and truly understand people’s views and aspirations. Focus groups have been perfect for this.

They’ve also fitted the bill for less noble reasons. They seem easy to set up and run and appear to be a quick and cheap way of gathering information.

But nothing is ever straightforward - and focus groups are no exception. There is far more to them than meets the eye.

Talk to anyone who has done this sort of work for a living and they all tell you that moderating a group of 10 to 12 people for an hour and a half is no cake walk.

People can be uncooperative, can easily get sidetracked and often don’t do what you want them to do. Domineering types have to be tackled early on as do quieter types of people, who must be coaxed out of their shyness.

Then there is all the preparatory work of finding the right participants and getting them to turn up in the first place. This part of running focus groups is hard and often frustrating, especially when people who have promised they are coming suddenly find something better to do on the night.

On the other hand, one tragedy has resulted from the popularity of focus groups: people have been blinded to so many other highly relevant qualitative methods they could have been using, but haven’t.

Such tried and tested methods as case studies, document analyses, stories, observation techniques and individual depth interviews have been ignored. Yet when used properly in the right circumstances they can all reveal things you would never discover using the quantitative approach.

Why people haven’t used these methods is a bit of mystery.

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Courses that might interest you:

An introduction to focus groups

Beyond the numbers; How to analyse qualitative data

How to facilitate groups effectively

Successful depth interviewing techniques

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