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
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Data Collection Methods Used by Non-Profits
Data is of no use if the insights gleaned from it isn't used strategically. By strategically, I mean that it should be used to guide decisions that yield desired outcomes. Not doing so will mean that nonprofit decision makers will be conducting their decisions in a vacuum without having a clue about procedures that actually work vis-à-vis procedures that don't work. With that said, the main types of data collection methods often employed by non-profits include:-
(iii) Focus Group
(iv) Participant Observation and
(v) Record or Document Review
This is a cost effective method and can be issued either by e-mail, mail, telephones or in person. Generally, the nature of the desired goal will determine the best approach to be used. Surveys can provide critical information and insights for decision makers in a non-profit if conducted effectively. Also, they (surveys) are usually carried out by asking sample beneficiaries a fixed set of questions. Generally, surveys are quantitative in nature.
Interviews reflect a qualitative approach and are very effective at eliciting explanatory responses. Using this approach is a great way of establishing rapport with respondents. It also facilitates the introduction of other stimulus such as pictures of an ongoing project. For instance, non-profit leadership might have a desire to gauge the perception of beneficiaries regarding a project. Rather than hazarding a guess, an interview involving targeted questions can be conducted. Information gleaned from the interview can provide the leadership with objective insights.
Focus Groups are exploratory in nature. As its' name indicates, it focuses on selected beneficiaries of a program for about two hours. Focus Group discussions are conducted in a special facility by a trained interviewer. In most cases, questions asked by the interviewer are structured according to targeted goals. One caveat with focus groups is that they lack an observational component.
Participant Observation as a data collection method is qualitative in nature and can be used by non-profits as a means of gaining explanation /insights. For instance, in a situation where the relevance of a program to beneficiaries is being sought, a non-profit can utilize participant observation. It is especially useful in situations where beneficiaries might not be adept at articulating the specific components of a program that they deem helpful. By observing how beneficiaries engage and act based on present and future circumstances, non-profit leadership can gain deeper understanding.
Record or Document Review:
Under record or document review, data is collected by reviewing existing documents. This qualitative approach involves reviewing internal records and external records. Both internal record keeping sources of an organization and external sources such as publicly available records of a program are reliable sources of data collection through the record or document review approach.
Furthermore, documents are available either in hard copy format or soft copy format. The document review process, although time consuming, can be a useful way of steering the direction of a program. For example, non profit leadership can determine if written statements regarding the purpose of a program are being reflected during the implementation phase of a program. Should discrepancies be discovered during the document review process, measures aimed at curbing these discrepancies can be conducted.
Written By Sherita N Brace
Sherita N Brace is an International Development Professional. She serves as a Consultant to Non-Profits and provides grant writing services, program planning services and communications services.
. The Market Research Toolbox, Edward F. McQuarrie, 2012, SAGE Publications, Inc.
. Evaluation Briefs. Retrieved August 23rd from
why should non-profits court volunteers ?
Granted, most non-profits are under staffed. It is therefore not surprising that they balk at the prospect of including any program that requires supervision or extra effort.
Although these issues are legitimate, non-profits with a volunteering program stand to gain added benefits . The benefits that non-profits stand to accrue from the inclusion of an efficient volunteering program include:
1. Increased Funding
As part of the corporate responsibility programs of some corporations, eligible non-profits that offer volunteering opportunities are awarded grants. Once an employee of the corporation volunteers some time working on a project at a non-profit, a grant award matching the number of hours worked is awarded to the non-profit. Corporations have unique methods of calculating rates associated with the hours expended by employees on non-profit projects.
2. Higher Productivity
An efficient volunteering program results in higher productivity. Since volunteers take on added tasks, program staff are provided with an opportunity to narrow their focus/responsibility. By wearing fewer hats, they become less tired and more productive. This results in a happier work force along with its' attendant effects on the work environment.
3. Community Involvement
Offering a volunteering program provides a non-profit with an opportunity to engage positively with the community in which it operates. Naturally, this will lead to an expansion of its(non-profit) networks and an awareness of the non-profits mission. The resulting goodwill to the non-profit is a key step in strengthening its position within the community .
Although the benefits listed above are strong reasons why non-profits are encouraged to incorporate volunteer programs, these benefits can only be reaped if the conditions itemized below are considered during the planning phase of a volunteer program:
By incorporating these recommendations, a non-profit stands to gain high retention rates.
Including an efficient volunteer program should be prioritized by non-profits as it yields benefits (increased funding, higher productivity, community involvement) .
Written by Sherita . N. Brace
Non-Profit Market Research - Benefits
The implementation of market research (identification of a specific market and measurement of its size and other characteristics) as part of program design activities by non-profits is a practice that cannot be ignored. Hitherto, market research was viewed as a practice best suited for corporations and industries. Yet, non-profits stand to gain immensely from the incorporation of market research in their program design practices.
For non-profits that cite limited funding and time as the main reasons why they can't afford to conduct market research, it should be noted that refraining from conducting market research is actually costly in the long term. Benefits of market research to non-profits include;
1. Time Saver
Let's observe the following scenario. A non-profit may decide to offer shelter services for victims of domestic violence within its' community. After approval from the board, the non-profit may decide to design a program aimed at providing shelter services. How will the non-profit move from acting based on an assumption to acting based on facts? What if there is another non-profit carrying out the same service ? Without market research, the leadership of the non-profit will not have a sufficient response to this question. In the event that another non-profit is already offering that service in the community, a likely outcome could be that the program would not be successful. Therefore, the time and funds expended on the program would have been for naught. Had market research been conducted from the onset, this outcome would have been avoided.
2. Competitive Advantage
In an ideal world, competition would be non-existent. Yet, the world we live in is highly competitive. For non-profits to excel, it is essential that they figure out their value and competitive edge. This can be gleaned through market research. Once a non-profit carries out market research, it will be armed with insight on how its' competitors are carrying out their programs. Along with this insight comes the opportunity to figure out how to carry out similar services effectively and efficiently. This knowledge will inevitably result in a non-profit attaining its competitive advantage!
3. Sustainable Programs
Conducting market research is a key step in the design of sustainable programs. For example, by carrying out market research, the leadership of a non-profit will acquire information on where a need is greatest and the beneficiaries that stand to gain most from a proposed service. On the flip side, areas requiring minimum service from the non-profit will be brought to light. Therefore, the design of a program taking into account information gained from market research is highly likely to be sustainable.
Through market research, a non-profit can gain important information on the services being provided by other non-profits within its' community. Accordingly, it will be in a better position to team up or collaborate with the right non-profit when it comes to providing services that require such partnerships. Also, a non-profits ability to form the right partnership(s) when seeking funds can increase its' fundraising potential.
Small non-profits can take advantage of affordable market research that are easily accessible. Some of the affordable options for conducting market research can be readily obtained from sources such as local libraries and local colleges. Non-profits ought to integrate market research in their program design efforts as they will reap benefits such as saving time, gaining a competitive advantage, designing sustainable programs and establishing partnerships.
Written By : Sherita N Brace
1.Market Research. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/marketing-research.html
2. Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations, Alan R. Andreasen, Phillip Kotler, 2008, Seventh International Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall.