I’ve been doing a bit of reading lately – catching up with some Wendy Gordon, the blogs and also reading the sites of different agencies around the globe (what can I say, I’m a curious person – I own my ‘stickybeak’ tendencies).

I’ve been pondering the way that many of us describe focus groups.  On many of the sites I’ve seen, or in conversations I’ve heard about the industry and what we do, people refer to them as ‘Traditional Focus Groups‘.

It’s a curious choice of words.

Why is ‘traditional’ necessary?  What does this qualifier add to the description of a focus group?  Why do we feel the need to qualify a focus group with the word ‘traditional’.

One theory is that it’s an apology.  Have we become ashamed of one of the core methods in qualitative research?  Are we saying, “We do ‘traditional’ focus groups, of course, but look at all the shiny new methods we also employ!”

I think as we move to a more Dynamic model of qualitative research, the focus group is being employed less frequently than it once was.  Bringing in thinking from Behavioural Sciences means we know that, in many cases, putting people around a table and asking them ‘Why’ they did something isn’t going to get us the information we need.  Greater use of observation, ethnography and real-time research are being used to balance the rationalised perspective we get when participants are asked ‘why’.  BUT, there are still many occasions where only a group will do.  The energy of a group can enhance NPD, innovation and co-creation.  Focus groups often will engage the more rationalised, System 2 style thinking – and whilst we look for ways to tap into System 1, that System 2 is still important and shouldn’t be forgotten (we just need to think a bit more about what it actually means).

Another theory is that it is supposed to offer reassurance.  In a world of safaris, workshops, co-creation, gyms, super groups, ‘sessions’, forums, mega-workshops and super groups, perhaps the offer of a ‘traditional focus group’ offers the reassurance that we still do the basics.  It is interesting, both that we feel the need to ‘sexy-up’ a focus group to increase their relevance, appeal and sale-ability, and also that we feel the need to ‘reassure’ that, despite all this ‘sexiness’, we still offer the basics.  Is it that we’re too afraid to say we’ve moved on or totally innovated, or is it a recognition that this method is still very relevant these days?

Or am I missing the reason entirely? Or doing what my Mother says I do and ‘thinking into it far too much’?  What do you think about Traditional Focus Groups as a term?  I’m really interested to hear your thoughts!

Anyway enough musings from me today.  Hope you’re having a great one

– Keep Smiling



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