2.1 Qualitative research. An example: focus groups

Example of qualitative consumer research: Focus groups

Focus groups are interactive discussion groups. They are preferred over personal interviews because of their interactive effect: statements of one participant can generate comments by others. Typically, several groups are run and then the results are interpreted judgementally by observers and the moderator. Participants are not forced to give a fixed response. This lack of structure makes the data collection more complex since further interpretation from the researcher is needed to “translate” it into qualitative and quantitative data (van Kleef et al., 2006).

Example qualitative food research

Why use focus groups?

The main purpose of focus group research is to draw upon respondents’ attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions which may be partially independent of a group or its social setting, but are more likely to be revealed via this social gathering.

The role of focus groups

Focus groups can help to explore or generate hypotheses (Powell and Single, 1996) and develop questions or concepts for questionnaires and interview guides (Hoppe et al., 1995; Lankshear, 1993). They can be used at:

  • The preliminary or exploratory stages of a study (Kreuger, 1988)
  • During a study, perhaps to evaluate or develop a particular programme of activities (Race et al., 1994)
  • After a programme has been completed, to assess its impact or to generate further avenues of research.

The researcher, or moderator, has less control over the data produced (Morgan, 1988) than in either quantitative studies or one-to-one interviewing. By its nature, focus group research is open-ended and cannot be entirely predetermined. The role of the moderator is very significant. Good levels of group leadership and interpersonal skill are required to moderate a group successfully.

Example qualitative food research