An Alternative to Focus Groups: Group Interviewing Using the Delphi Technique Online
This paper examines the defects of focus group research and suggests that a better alternative to focus group research is web-based surveys using the well-established Delphi Technique.
Qualitative research is an important part of marketing research today. When marketing managers say "we'll do some qual" they almost always mean focus groups. Other types of qualitative research are rarely if ever considered.
The technique of data gathering known as focus group interviewing is associated with sociologist Robert Merton's work in World War II. Merton was one of the great pioneering sociologists of the last century, an intellectual giant associated with the development of such central sociological ideas as anomie, deviance, functionalism and role model.
Like all new research methods focus groups were developed to improve data gathering in social science research. In 1931 as Rice said: "a defect of the interview for the purposes of fact-finding in scientific research, then, is that the questioner takes the lead...data obtained from an interview are likely to embody the preconceived ideas of the interviewer as the attitude of the subject interviewed" (Rice, 1931, p.561 cited in Kreuger, 1988, p.18).
Focus group interviews may have been improvement for some purposes over the one-on-one interviews they replaced but focus groups did not entirely eliminate interviewer bias: far from it. Robert Merton said as recently as 1990 that he felt that this application of focus group research is being misused in that plausible interpretations are taken from group interviews and are treated as being reliably valid (Merton, Fiske and Kendall, 1990, p.xxi). There are three reasons why focus group research cannot be reliably valid:
1. Research has shown that members of a group are strongly influenced by other members of the group. Social psychologists have attributed the influence of other group members to both informational and normative influences.
The individual conforms to informational influence because he trusts the judgment of others more than his own. The individual conforms to normative influence from a desire to be liked by others. Research has also shown that conformity is not always brought about by the pressure of majority opinion. A confident minority will also exert pressure to conform.
2. Another strike against focus group research if improperly used, as it so often is in modern marketing research, is that samples are so small that no generalization of findings can be made to any population of interest. Focus groups speak for themselves alone; they provide no reliable or valid insight into the thoughts of a population.
3. And finally, there is always interviewer bias.
What are Focus Groups good for?
Stewart and Shamdasani (1990, p.15) have suggested that the uses of focus groups include:
1. Obtaining general background information about a topic of interest;
2. Generating research hypotheses that can be submitted to further research and testing using more quantitative approaches;
3. Stimulating new ideas and creative concepts;
4. Diagnosing the potential for problems with a new program, service or product;
5. Generating impressions of products, programs, services, institutions, or other objects of interest;
6. Learning how respondents talk about the phenomenon of interest which may facilitate quantitative research tools;
7. Interpreting previously obtained qualitative results
Nowhere is it suggested by social scientists that focus groups should constitute the entirety of a research project and as Merton said focus groups in modern marketing research are being misused in that plausible interpretations are taken from group interviews and are treated as being reliably valid.
We suggest that if researchers want to do qualitative research without the dangers inherent in face-to-face imposition of interviewer bias and the problems of interactions within the group putting inappropriate pressures on participants then an excellent alternative is the Delphi Technique.
The Delphi technique is a better alternative to focus groups that overcomes some of their major problems. The Delphi technique was developed by the RAND Corporation in the late 1960s. Delphi was developed as a methodology in which a group of experts could arrive at a consensus of opinion about subjective matters.
Delphi is typically not conducted in face-to-face group settings. Participants respond to a carefully crafted questionnaire, their responses are delivered anonymously. This overcomes the major problems inherent in the face-to-face dynamics of focus groups. There is little pressure to conform to dominant group members; those who might dominate in a face-to-face setting are also anonymous.
After the first set of responses is received the moderator(s) summarize the responses, and feed the summary of responses back to the group. At this stage there is discussion; participants are allowed to support one opinion or another. This can be done by way of a blog or a chat session. After discussion, group members respond again. The idea is not necessarily to obtain consensus but to obtain a relatively stable set of responses.
Not only does Delphi avoid the potential problems of face-to-face interviewer bias and adverse group dynamics it also allows relatively large samples of independent individuals to be used, particularly when interviews are conducted on-line. This means that, unlike with focus groups, the researcher can gain valid and reliable insights into the thoughts of a population of interest, such as users of shampoo or voters. This is not feasible with focus groups.
A Delphi study can be run very efficiently on the Internet. This not only enables the elimination of undesirable group dynamics it also means that the people who have commissioned the research can observe and even participate anonymously without having to stand behind a one-way mirror.
Kreuger, R.A. (1988). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research. London: Sage.
Merton, R.K., Fiske, M., and Kendall, P.L. (1990). The focused interview: A manual of problems and procedures. (2nd ed.). London: Collier MacMillan.
Stewart, D.W., and Shamdasani, P.N. (1990). Focus groups: Theory and practice. London: Sage.
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Author: Michael Petty
Artice Source: http://www.articlesphere.com