When to start doing focus groups again?

Published 19 Apr 2021 7 minute read

Online qual
Online Focus Groups

Its fair to say Covid-19 has disrupted lives and businesses around the world.  While the market research industry is well-positioned to help brands and businesses understand how the pandemic has changed the way people behave and how they live their lives, it’s not been without its own challenges. Lockdowns and social distancing has meant that in-person focus groups haven’t been possible in many countries since March 2020, which has seen an increased reliance on online and digital research methods such as online focus groups and communities and n-depth interviews. 

Key questions remain such as when will face to face focus groups return; how might they have changed when they do and how will the recent shift to online techniques playout when restrictions are finally lifted.

The rise of online focus groups

In the wake of the pandemic, many researchers took their focus groups online, with many using Zoom as the new default. Conducting focus groups using Zoom requires new skills and an approach that was new to many, but when conquered, they delivered many benefits including:

  • More inclusive research through greater geographic reach
  • Reduced cost thanks to not having to hire facilities
  • Additional tools to break out groups and conduct creative exercises
  • More natural responses from the comfort of people’s home, which leads to less bias
  • A quicker journey from data to insight

It  wasn't only the pandemic which led to the rise in online qualitative research techniques, arguably it was already happening and Covid-19 simply accelerated the transition as companies looked for ways of conducting more research internally more quickly and cheaply.  But, now that lockdown restrictions are easing in some countries around the world, including the UK, it will be necessary to think again about your research strategies and the methods available to collect data. 

Guidance from the Market Research Society – the UK’s professional body for the market research industry – sets out the conditions for face-to-face data collection activities based on a cautious lifting of the restrictions announced on 22nd February 2021.

In its guidance, the MRS states the fundamental principle underlying guidance is that face-to-face data collection should only be undertaken when no other alternative methodology can be used. This must be followed until working from home and social contact messaging is reviewed as part of the UK governments roadmap.*

If a face-to-face research methodology like focus groups is then selected by the researcher, a risk assessment must be undertaken before progressing, and the location of the focus group must only be in those places open as a result of Covid-19 restrictions and in locations allowed within the MRS guidance.

One element to consider as you weigh up your expanded portfolio of methods is what you will have gained in terms of reaching a more diverse audience using online methods. While in-person focus groups allow for a diverse group of people or segments, online versions are more flexible in term of  location and time commitment, making it accessible to more diverse audiences and enabling a wider sampling of the region or country you’re targeting. 

The research industry and its professionals are vitally important in devising new solutions and approaches to the challenges created by the global pandemic and the ensuing crisis. And, there are undoubtedly more challenges to come, however it's vital that brands keep a finger on the pulse of people's changing attitudes and behaviours in response to the crisis to be able to discover the opportunities to improve people’s experience of living.

Take your time to invest wisely in the right methods, and contact us for advice on the most appropriate approach to data collection and human insight.

*Further guidance on conducting face-to-face research in the UK can be found on the MRS website and for information pertaining to your local market, please consult the local market research industry body, a list of which can be found here.

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