Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio June
Back to Basics
By Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP
HOW TO ORGANIZE A FOCUS GROUP
The whys and wherefores of these research panels
Most planners produce events to impart information. One meeting,
however, is designed to do the opposite: gather information. Focus
groups have become popular to help sponsors understand the nuances
of everything from campaign messages to to product development.
A focus group is a research technique for gathering qualitative
data. Surveys, questionnaires and interviews are quantitative
methods. For example, a post-meeting questionnaire gathers such
information as demographics and the number of people who found the
event helpful. A focus group enhances the data, showing what made
the meeting successful and how next year’s can be improved.
Focus groups have four basic elements:Their purpose is research.They are focused on one subject.The format is group discussion.They are small. Typically, researchers use six to 10 people and
one facilitator per group.
Some special challenges can make or break a focus group.
Question development. This is the most
critical step. The questions will determine the information you
gain. Tip: Devote as many resources (time, talent and money) to
question development as you would for a keynote speaker; both are
the guts of the meeting. Great questions make the final stage
analysis and reporting much easier.
Participant recruitment. The challenge here is
two-fold: Find the right participants and ensure they attend. Pick
people who represent as many subgroups of your target audience as
possible to provide a cross-section of opinions.
Cash or some sort of recognition encourages attendance. The
honorarium varies with the topic and the group. Those giving
opinions on a community improvement project might need only a plate
of cookies. Physicians discussing a new drug might require full
reimbursement of their expenses and a four-figure fee.
Moderation. The session should be structured
to provide group dynamics that match its purpose. Accomplish this
with different leadership styles and question types. Groups can be
unstructured, carrying on an open-ended dialogue, or the moderator
can lead a focused discussion, never straying from the script. One
approach sets a brainstorming atmosphere; the other provides depth
and detail. A quality moderator is an essential ingredient.
Analysis and reporting. The group will produce
piles of data. Determine if the analysis will be based on
transcripts, tapes, notes or memory. Flip charts and note cards
also can be used to supplement the data collection.
Analysis based on transcripts is the most reliable, but requires
more time. Question-by-question analysis is the most popular.
Participants also can be asked for reactions to previous focus
group results, requiring another round of study. The detail the
organization wants will determine the time and money required for
this final task.
A focus group can be held anywhere the participants will feel
comfortable talking about the topic. If the discussion is to be
recorded, the facility should be wired for this.
When hidden researchers need to observe the participants, book a
room with a one-way mirror. If the topic is sensitive and privacy
is paramount, restrict access to tapes and transcripts and remove
identifying information; when all is said and done, you might need
to destroy the records.
Market research firms can help with all of the above. To cut
costs, planners can use membership lists or customer databases to
recruit people, combine focus groups with other events and train
staff members to be moderators.Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP, is an independent meeting planner
based in Atlanta.
Back to Current Issue indexM&C
| Events Calendar
| Incentive News
| Meetings Market
| CVB Links
| Reader Survey
| Hot Dates
| Contact M&C