The reason for conducting this type of research (qualitative) is to establish the whys and wherefores or ‘the meat on the bones’ rather than to achieve percentage scores as with quantitative research.

What are the approaches
There are 2 main types of qualitative research. They are group discussions and depth interviews
Focus groups have been used for many years by researchers who in turn borrowed the tool from the social sciences. They are a discussion amongst a small number of specially selected individuals who discuss a particular topic or subject directed by a moderator.
Depth interviews on the other hand are typically with one person or in the case of paired depths, two people.

When do I use groups or depths
There are clear guidelines as to when to use groups or depths.
For example you would tend to use depths when
• There are only a few respondents who are scattered geographically – e.g. one in Coleraine, one in Belfast and one in Enniskillen
• In business-to-business research where there are commercially sensitivities and respondents may not want to divulge information in fear of giving competitors a commercial advantage or if the respondent needs to refer to commercial information continually throughout the discussion
• When dealing with young children, then we would consider friendship paired depths, i.e. 2 children who know and feel comfortable with each other, or a parent/child paired depth.

Group discussions are more commonly used when subjects are not so sensitive, the audience is consumer rather than business based and there is a need allow ideas and opinions to be digested, challenged and considered. For example group discussions are particularly useful when researching new products or brand extensions or indeed testing new advertising concepts. This methodology allows the respondents to consider points raised by others as well as themselves and spark ideas of each other which may be missed in a one-to-one depth interview scenario.

Groups work best with 6 to 8 respondents. This gives everyone time to consider the subject and participate in the discussion. Experience proves that groups larger than 10 or so respondents results in a more descriptive type discussion rather than allowing time to understand underlying motivations and conceptions.

How many do I need
As clients become more confident in using a qualitative approach rather than relying on percentages to make their case and budgets become tighter, the number of groups or depths required in each project seems to reducing. Typically, in previous years, projects consisting of 6 or more groups and 12 +groups were not uncommon. Obviously if there is a need to cover many sub-population groups such as pre-children living in parent home, pre-children living in mortgaged accommodation, etc. then there is still a need for large numbers of groups. Generally though, many projects now consist of less than 6 groups. I always advocate the 3 legged stool approach – i.e. a minimum of 3 groups (ideally 4). Otherwise if only conducting 2 groups and they are very different how you know which is the ‘norm’ and which is ‘rogue’.

Why can’t I do it myself
I have encountered many people who feel that they can easily ‘have a go’ themselves at moderating, but by employing a professional agency you ensure that not only do people attend but the right people attend (not your mother, brother and aunty who occasionally buy the product you want to discuss).

The moderator should also give you guidance on the areas to discuss and be trained and competent in using a variety of projective enabling techniques such as analogies, mind mapping and personalities to achieve that deeper understanding of motivations and attitudes required.

Of course an experienced moderator will also bring their knowledge to bear on controlling and steering a discussion as level as at the reporting level. If a client is conducting the groups themselves it is very easy to hear what you what to hear, or interpret what you think people are saying or even challenging and re-educating opinions.
Finally, reporting should be so much more than just a narrative of the discussion. A good moderator will add insight and context from their wider experience. They should also provide direction and actionable recommendations on how to achieve the project aims.