How Technology is Responsible for the Resurgence in Face to Face Focus Groups
The resurgence of face to face focus groups in Australia has been hidden away from the eyes of many people who presumed that advances in communication and technology would have replaced the need to host focus groups in person. In fact, face to face focus groups have been booming in our corner of the world because of technology.
This came clearly to mind for me when I was at The City Group Rooms in Sydney recently doing what I always do which is to hang anxiously around the waiting rooms for my respondents to arrive. Unable to alter the habits of a working life-time, I was also watching what was happening around me. All seven rooms at the city venue were fully booked with many double shifts, so there were people everywhere. Seriously, this place never seems to stop.
To find out what's been going on, I had a chat with Patrick Strachan, Director of The City Group Rooms. Patrick told me that the last calendar year was their most successful year to date. The mix has been interesting too he told me - some of the time slots that used to be 'special cases' - like breakfasts, weekends and Friday nights - are now standard. Even daytime groups are now viable again, thanks to the gig economy. They have seen a lot more in-venue in-depths than say 5 years ago as well.
So what is the cause of this boom?
Technology is the cause, in three different and unexpected ways:
1. UX testing
Much of what goes on at The City Group Rooms like other professional group room venues is UX or Human Centred Design (HCD) testing. Few professional agency researchers have noticed this rise in face to face UX testing because as Patrick says some of the traditional research agencies 'dropped the ball' on UX. Most of Patrick's UX clients are not agency researchers - they are mostly small specialist companies. As well, while many client-side organisations conduct their own UX testing in house, some large blue chip businesses use group rooms that offer specialised UX equipment, as well as viewing facilities, recording and interpreting and respondent management.
2. Why I was there
The second reason is why I was there. I was running groups about how people use technology, what they expect from it and how they are managing technology detox. Covering that topic online would be like talking about Dry July in a Bottle Shop. We needed to put away our devices for a couple of hours to have a real heart-to heart debate about the pros and cons of tech in our lives.
3. People enjoy it
This is a hypothesis of Patrick's - that at the end of a long workday in front of a screen - or screens - people who attend in-person focus groups enjoy the opportunity to talk to other people and can feel energised by the process. The way people interact with each other in this kind of environment is gold for any moderator.
To sum up
So there you have it. Face to face focus groups are alive and well despite and because of technology.
As I am a Director of the Australian Market and Social Research Society (AMSRS), I should point out that AMSRS has continued to invest in professional development for all forms of qualitative research including the recent Winter School.