Facilitating Respect in Focus Groups

Recently we ran remote research across two countries with participants who had diverse political ideologies and we had 90 minutes to get it right!

To give some context, we were using focus groups to gain an understanding of the behaviours, experiences, and needs of people when they are consuming political news, with a particular focus around elections.

So, how do you facilitate a focused and productive conversation amongst people who hold diametrically opposed ideologies? Well, we found that these three practical steps were the way forward.

Step 1: Set the stage

Housekeeping rules were established at the beginning of each session. We clearly defined and explained the research goals to participants. Honing in on the fact that it was a discussion, which involves sharing ideas and opinions in a receptive manner. Not a debate focused on discussing opposing viewpoints. We asked participants to refrain from sharing their political beliefs and to be respectful of others in the group. For example, trying not to speak over one another.

Our researchers also had prompts handy in case the participants did deviate and things got heated.

Step 2: Cultivate Empathy

At the beginning of each session we did an icebreaker with the participants. Which we found was a good way to get them talking and put them at ease. We did the icebreaker with two goals in mind, to put the participants at ease and for them to build upon common ground and shared experiences.

An example of the icebreaker task:

We’ll start off by everyone taking a moment to think to themselves about a time when something hasn’t gone quite to plan. A time that made you feel a bit frustrated. When times like that happen, what do you say to yourself to bring yourself away from feeling frustrated or upset?

Step 3: Utilise Live Visuals

We used Miro to guide the discussion, our intention was to keep participants on track with a visual reminder of the topic at hand. We also recorded participant’s points live on the Miro board to allow them to reflect back on what was said. We found that having this visual artefact helped to keep participants engaged, present and interacting with each other.

Using the steps outlined we were successfully able to facilitate respect amongst our participants. Despite having diametrically opposed political views, participants engaged in a focused and productive conversation.

Thankfully there were only a few dicey moments, typically at the end of the session!

Focus groups are just one of the tools we use to elicit user insights. Contact us below to discuss your research needs.

Image credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/asiseeit?mediatype=photography


UX Researcher

Sutherland Labs
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