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Focus Group Best Practices: Dry Run

focus group / market research / research design / featured / blog / qualitative

Getting ready to start a focus group project can be stressful. You probably have a huge list of data you need to collect, and not that many groups to do it in. If a line of questions doesn’t work, or an activity is a flop, you may not have time to make changes. One strategy that can help you make every group as useful as possible is to do a dry run.

When we’re getting ready to start a focus group project, we ask people office to act as test participants, bring them together in a room, and use the moderator’s guide to conduct a mock group. This gives us opportunity to test the questions, try out activities, and establish how long things will take. Afterwards, we ask our volunteer participants for any feedback on things they found confusing or awkward. Sometimes the client will observe the mock group, so they can see how things are working and indicate any changes they want.

Using fellow employees as participants is logistically easier than recruiting real participants, and it lets you focus on the process of the group and how well the moderator’s guide is working. You could recruit real participants for your dry run but, in our experience, once you have actual respondents all your attention is on the data they’re providing, not on how the group could be improved.

There are a number of challenges you may face when trying to conduct a dry run:

Even if you do face some of these issues, the benefits of the dry run can be considerable:

Does every focus group project need a dry run? Probably not. If you’re discussing a topic you’ve addressed in focus group before, or using activities that have worked in the past, and if your moderator has lots of experience keeping groups moving, a dry run might not be worth the effort. But when you’re trying a new activity, discussing a new concept, or just when the number of groups you can conduct is limited enough that every second matters, a focus group dry run can help make sure that you get exactly the data you need.

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