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How long does it take to organise a focus group? If you’ve got a good company on board you can get them turned around in about three weeks.

How much does a focus group cost? A couple of focus groups cost between three and four thousand pounds plus vat.

How big is a focus group? There are about 8-10 people in each group so, epidemiologically, people would say you were mad, but you’re not asking for prevalence studies, you’re asking for issues to be brought out.

Are the participants representative of the target group?Yes, because they are well recruited.

How do you recruit a focus group? I commission field workers to identify the target audience with the right characteristics. For example, in the oral cancer prevention study we were recruiting middle age males, middle class, smokers and drinkers who hadn’t been in contact with dental services over the years. The fieldworkers have special techniques to identify them. They are commercial recruiters who find them in the general population and use high quality control methods to make sure they recruit the people who are truly representative of the target group you are interested in.

Sometimes they’ll contact me at short notice saying they’re recruiting that night and asking me to check the recruitment questionnaire to make sure it will bring in the people I want. For example in the teenage pregnancy study, I had to make sure they recruited women who either had been pregnant when they were teenagers or might become pregnant when they are teenagers and it is very difficult to word those questions. What I did say is that I didn’t want anyone in the focus groups who had had a child die recently, because that would be very disruptive to the group. They hadn’t thought of that so it’s good that we had the discussion. It’s very important that you are on the ball when you’re recruiting.

In anther study on hoarding medicines, the recruiters planned to find people who take a lot of medicines, people with arthritis and things like that. I pointed out that the prevalence of hoarding was probably quite small even amongst people who take a lot of drugs and that they needed to recruit on hoarding status only. The recruiters pointed out that you can’t ask people whether they hoard a lot of medicines. In the end, we developed a recruitment questionnaire exploring things like ‘at home in the bathroom cabinet I have lots of tablets left’ or ‘I don’t always take my tablets through to the end of a course’ or ‘I always take my tablets’ and we asked them which phrase best described them.

The recruitment process is very complicated. A good moderator will check that a focus group meets the criteria and if they find that they don’t match then they won’t do won’t do the focus group, they’ll just pay the people off and organise another one.

Who runs the focus group? I use experienced moderators who have worked with me before and I design a discussion guide for them. A good, experienced moderator will come back after you’ve given them a discussion guide and discuss what they will do. They’ll tell me how they will approach the warm up and if I tell them what I am looking for, a good moderator will pick up on this immediately and say OK, so I’ll do this, get a mood board out etc. A good moderator has all sorts of things at his finger tips which he can pull out as required. They’re all trained in social science research. A good one will have a strong background of experience and will have been trained in the commercial world rather than the academic world. The academics are probably twenty to thirty years behind. In the commercial world they have to produce material that will result in behaviour change because that is what the companies want.

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