Focus Groups: Part II

Comparing Types of Focus Groups

There are three types of focus groups in common use: face-to-face, telephone, and on-line.  All three types are used by researchers to get in-depth information about a program, product, or service.  The main difference among these methodologies is the location of the participants.

Unlike face-to-face focus groups, telephone and on-line focus groups operate with individuals who may not be in the same physical location as one another.  Telephone focus groups are usually conducted by having members call into a conference call line in which they can carry out a discussion with others in the group.  A typical on-line focus group is conducted with software that allows the group members to chat on-line with other members in real-time.  However, online groups have also evolved to allow participants to join in when convenient for them, thus not all participants are simultaneously present in the focus group.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Each type of focus group has its own advantages and disadvantages.  For example, a face-to-face focus group allows members of the group to not only hear other group members’ responses but also to see non-verbal cues and other visual cues that are not available on the telephone or in on-line focus groups.  However, face-to-face focus groups are restricted to groups of people that are in the same physical location.

Telephone and on-line focus groups do not have such restrictions.  If you wish to have a focus group made up of individuals from across a broad geographic area, telephone or on-line methods would be the appropriate choice. On-line focus groups may be a particularly good choice when asking sensitive questions because participants are able to remain fully anonymous.

One drawback to on-line focus groups is that group members must have internet access. While most Americans have internet access at home, some may have slower connections or no home internet access. In these cases, face-to-face focus groups may be more appropriate to gain responses from a broader sample.  Further, some researchers who use telephone focus groups claim that the ability to hear the tone of voice of other group members is a benefit that is not available to on-line focus groups.

Another consideration is cost. In some cases conducting on-line or telephone focus groups are lets costly than face-to-face focus groups because there are no travel or facility costs. However, the costs involved in focus groups are dependent on many factors. For a more detailed analysis of cost comparisons see the following article that compares on-line and face-to-face focus groups.

Choosing a focus group methodology will depend on many factors such as the types demographics of participants that you are seeking, where they are located, and their technology access and skill level. CMS Evaluation can help you decide on the appropriate method for your particular evaluation project.

For a more in-depth comparison of the three main types of focus groups, see the following article:

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