Tips for running successful online focus groups
With thanks to Elena Di Antonio, Research Manager at YouthNet for this guest blog.
Last month we ran four online focus groups with young people, as part of our ongoing research looking into young people’s online help-seeking behaviour. Planning and running these online focus groups has been a really interesting process for us and we’ve learnt a great deal, which we thought we’d share with you.
We ran the focus groups using a virtual meeting room, and overall they were a great success: we were pleased with the number of people taking part (28 participants, with only a 12% drop out rate in the total number of young people that originally agreed to take part). Also, participants were generally very engaged throughout and gave us many varied and well considered answers.So here’s what we’ve learnt from the whole experience, and some of our top tips if you’re looking to do something similar:
How to recruit young people for research:
Recruiting the young people and ensuring they got the best out of the online experience was our first challenge – here we suggest the following to ensure the smooth running of the recruitment stage:
- Create a registration form to ensure you are recruiting a good mix of people
- Once you have selected your participants, keep them “warm” with regular (but not overwhelming!) communication on next steps; make sure you are always clear on what is happening next and when
- Send a thank you email to the people who have not been selected, asking them if they’d like to take part in the event that somebody drops out
- Send participants the log in details and clear instructions about the software in advance
- A few days before the focus group takes place, run a 10 minute test session to ensure participants are engaged and can familiarise themselves with the programme
How to run online focus groups smoothly:
Running an effective online session can be difficult – it is harder to keep participants engaged in a virtual room than in a real room; also, participants could write their answers all at the same time, making the conversation very hard to follow. Here there are few suggestions to get the best from the discussion:
- Preparation is key – print out a table with the information you already have on respondents, so that you can tailor your questions to specific individuals
- Make sure you have one or two colleagues to support you, helping you spot participants who are not as engaged, follow up answers and take notes on comments to follow up with participants
- Set down the rules of the discussion very clearly at the beginning of the session - for example, participants need to wait for their turn and respect everybody else’s right to express an opinion
- Ask a warm-up question as an opening round, to allow people to get familiar with each other and with the software – it is as simple as asking people to introduce themselves
- Write short, simple and clear questions, using an informal tone
- Sometimes write funny comments to make the session a bit more interesting and to keep participants’ attention up
- In the virtual room, participants will sit in circle, as in a real environment; when asking a question, try to invite participants to follow one another in a circle – this is to give everybody a chance to speak and follow the conversation more easily
- If you need to follow up on a specific comment, address the person by name and then ask other respondents to share their opinion in order to stimulate debate
- Once you feel you have enough insights from the answers, sum up what people have said and then ask whether what you have written is a fair summary of their opinions.
Hopefully this ‘check list’ will be helpful to other organisations or individuals wanting to explore the option of running online focus groups. More insights and learning from the research will be shared soon – so watch this space!
About Elena Di Antonio
Elena is a Research Manager and joined YouthNet in 2011. Elena has a strong area of expertise in both qualitative and quantitative research, with a specific focus on young and hard-to-reach people. She is currently leading the research team and her role is split between carrying YouthNet’s external research and evaluating YouthNet’s projects. Elena previously worked for another charity supporting young people to start their own business.