A focus group moderator’s guide will often include group exercises or facilitation techniques as alternative approaches to direct questioning. While many of these alternative tactics are not unique to the group discussion method, and are also used in in-depth interview research, they have become a popular device in focus groups, esp., in the marketing research field. These alternative approaches can be broadly categorized as either enabling or projective techniques, the difference being whether the moderator’s intent is to simply modify a direct question to make it easier for group participants to express their opinions (enabling techniques) or delve into participants’ less conscious, less rational, less socially-acceptable feelings by way of indirect exercises (projective techniques). Examples of enabling techniques are: sentence completion – e.g., “When I think of my favorite foods, I think of _____.” or “The best thing about the new city transit system is _____.”; word association – e.g., asking prospective college students, “What is the first word you think of when Read Full Text
The use of projective techniques in qualitative marketing research has become an accepted as well as expected practice in the industry. Focus group discussions and in-depth interviews (whether face-to-face or online) are particularly suitable for activities that go beyond the question-response format. There are any number of reasons for using projective techniques but they essentially boil down to something similar to the statement from AQR: “What these techniques have in common is that they enable participants to say more about the research subject than they can say spontaneously, accessing thoughts, feelings or meanings which are not immediately available.” Or, something along the lines of tearing down walls as from Applied Marketing Research: “Projective techniques are important in breaking through the wall of rationalizations consumers use on a daily basis to justify the purchase or likes/dislikes of products or brands.”
Projective techniques come in a variety of flavors. In addition to those listed on the AQR site – collage, personification, bubble drawing, role playing, etc. – there is also guided imagery, picture sorts, sentence completion, tarot cards, and more. The types of projective techniques used by researchers has grown over the years (and continues to grow), primarily because many researchers believe (although, I am not one of them) that there is no limit to what is acceptable as a projective technique, and online resources such as Pinterest have broadened the projective possibilities.
Researchers have promoted and defended their use of projective techniques based on the ability to tap into the less-public portion of people’s minds and thereby gain a ‘truer’ picture Read Full Text
A focus group discussion is nothing if not a venue for researchers to probe more deeply on any given issue. Focus groups by definition target a particular topic and envelop group participants with variations of the “why” question – “What makes you say that?” “How are the services of one healthcare provider ‘better’ than those of another?“ – as well as any number of projective techniques that shine light on unconscious, less-than-rational motives and perceptions. Moderators spend considerable time devising ways to get at the underlying reasons for people’s behavior and attitudes; and, indeed, these in-depth techniques make qualitative research an invaluable companion to quantitative methods.
Or do they? Do all of our “what,” “how,” “who,” “why” questions and indirect techniques actually elicit attitudes and opinions that are truly valuable in that they offer an honest measure of our participants’ realities? This is an important question because, just as moderators search for the best approach in gaining new insights, they also want to feel confident in their findings.
So, are our focus group designs – with all the built-in probes and tactics – producing good research? The issue here is the trustworthiness of the results and whether what we learn from one focus group study is not too far afield from what we would learn if we were to rewind the calendar and conduct the study again with the same set of participants in the same group environments. Researchers are obligated Read Full Text