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Thread: Focus group with 20+ participants?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Focus group with 20+ participants?

    Hey everyone,

    My planning office will be conducting a focus group next week in order to solicit public input on several municipally-owned vacant properties that we'd like to draft RFPs for, with the goal being to see some development on these sites. We would include the public input within the RFPs that we would send out. We initially anticipated having about a dozen people attend the focus group, but we've received more interest than we initially anticipated - we now have about two dozen interested people. It's possible that more people could sign up to attend by the end of the week. We did not anticipate such a sudden surge of new interest in the event; news of the group apparently went viral in the community and we got a surge of interest within the span of a couple days. A number of them were people referred to us by the elected officials in the community.

    Typically, focus groups are conducted with a dozen people or less. If all of those who have signed up turn out for the event turn out, it's not going to be possible to have a lot of dialogue. What has been everyone's experience with managing a focus group-style event with a large number of participants? Bear in mind that we want this not to be one-way presentation, but rather a discussion. Thanks.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    A max. of 8 people is best in my experience. If you have that many people, I'd recommend multiple sessions. You don't want to 'exclude' anyone that really has an interest. You'd be surprised at the outcome that multiple groups have - just don't share one group's outcomes with another to bias the result.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    MJ, it is possible, however without a few more details I would love to help you out on how do to this. Can you break this down to multiple meetings with different groups? That always provide better outcomes and can usually clearly define the problem areas and/or guide you with multiple comments. If not it can be done. We recently did a focus group meeting with a chamber of commerce which had over 40 participants and it was quite successful in 1) get out information regarding the project and 2) receiving input on how to proceed with changes that would impact businesses. If you want to PM some details, I would be happy to give you a strategy, or just post it here.
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  4. #4
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    20 is an awful lot for a focus group. The whole idea of focus groups is to get people into smaller settings where they are more likely to share their ideas. I would suggest breaking that into two groups of 10 or three groups of 6-7. You could try to make the groups more homogenous based on interests, or intentionally blend the different stakeholder groups in each of the 2-3 focus groups.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Great that you've been able to get so much interest! I agree that breaking the participants into two (or even three) groups is your best bet. Larger groups tend to discourage open discussion, and even if all 20 people put in their 2 cents, you won't be able to have a very substantive discussion.

    I like Suburb Repairman's idea of intentionally blending the different stakeholder groups in each of the focus groups. A homogenous composition might be too predictable.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Great feedback, thanks all.

    The space for the event has already been reserved, as has the date, so the format of the meeting is basically a done deal; we have two hours to do everything. One meeting only. The RFPs go out at the end of the month. Bear in mind that I'm a staff planner rather than a director here, so I don't have the ability to do a wholesale revamp of the event's scope. I'll certainly do what I can to make sure this thing turns out the best that it can be.

    With a smaller group, we figure that 2 hours on one night would be fine, but the sheer amount of discussion that could potentially take place with a couple dozen people in attendance complicates things greatly. I've been involved in focus groups in the past, both as a participant and facilitator, and they've always been small, rather intimate affairs. This is not going to be like that, and the question is how to manage what (given the personalities who have signed on to attend) could turn into a contentious affair.

    CPSURaf, how'd you guys manage to make things work with such a large turnout?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post

    CPSURaf, how'd you guys manage to make things work with such a large turnout?
    This was for a transportation enhancement/downtown enhancement study for a small community of approx 4,500 people.

    1) We created set up 3 large boards with the areas we were studying, an aerial and a map depicting information on it with the aerial screen back. We had this up when people walked in the room so they could get an idea of what's going. We moved them when the meeting was about to begin. We had an agenda and attached to that were two stickers. 2 Red/ 2Green stickers.

    2) we made a brief presentation (know your audience here) utilize boards that included project goals, funding sources, etc. We opted to this rather than the boring powerpoint. This presentation was approximately 10-15 minutes.

    3) From there we had a quick Q&A regarding the project. This was about 5 minutes.

    4) Then we conducted a "brainstorming session". outlined some rules regarding this. Always with the rules. We kept things low-tech here. We wrote down on huge sticky pads suggestions for improving the corridor. Each person in the room had a chance to voice an opinion. We reminded folks that if a suggestion was already written down, then voice something different. (approximately 45 minutes)

    5) at the conclusion of the brainstorming session we went over the purpose of the stickers. Participants were asked to place a green sticker next to the comment they agreed with and a red sticker next to a comment they opposed. We then let participants loose. We stuck around to answer any questions, as well as add comments that those who were not comfortable with public speaking could ad.

    Don't underestimate the power of stickers..hehe..
    In the end there were clear cut winning suggestions, losing suggestions, etc. Gave our team pretty clear direction for inclusion of potential solutions.

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  8. #8
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Since you can't change the meeting location and such, I assume it's a room that holds about 30 people and you have 20 coming so I would really run that meeting hard - that is, be the control up front, pace along the front and engage individuals -

    as in make a statement about one of the properties like so that empty lot off Corner Street, maybe a juvenile detention center? and look for the person while you're talking that is peering at you thinking about it and call on them, as in, so Jeff, what do you think of what I just said and if you see someone shifting in their seat when Jeff is speaking, turn to them and say, Sarah, what do you think of what Jeff just said, and on and on -

    keep it moving and keep moving yourself so you get everybody in on it without losing control of the meeting

    have a whole bunch of questions (including some crazy ones if they get complacent and inattentive and then when they freak say hey, I wanted to make sure we were all here still) in your back pocket to keep throwing out there but with that crowd, you have to really run the show and physically keep on it

    Most of my workshops are about 25 to 30 people and I find this method works and ensures that only the loud-mouthed few don't take over the meeting...

    Have a scribe writing down what people are saying on different large post-it pads for each property and then take a break and have people come up with little dots to give their "votes"

    sometimes I scribe myself if I think the meeting is heated because people have to shut up when you're writing (because I tell them to)

    this kind of stuff is my favorite part of my job actually...
    Last edited by luckless pedestrian; 04 Mar 2010 at 3:14 PM. Reason: forgot how to conclude

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Planit's avatar
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    We had one recently with 27 members. Basically about 4 dominated the conversation and the others drifted off. Then a few started not coming. It was not very successful.
    "Whatever beer I'm drinking, is better than the one I'm not." DMLW
    "Budweiser sells a product they reflectively insist on calling beer." John Oliver

  10. #10
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    Am writing a CASE STUDY about FOCUS GROUPS and Urban Planning...

    ... Any success stories out there?

    Not-so-success stories?


    Methodology tips?
    Insights?


    etc.

    Moderator note:
    (Dan) Deleted the email address. "Respond by email please" doesn't work on message boards, which exist so others may have the benefit of seeing any responses.

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