A focus group can be explained as sampling of a group of people from a larger population and interviewing them for market research or political analysis.
It is usually termed as a part of qualitative analysis for a social research in which the opinions, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, and expectations of a group of people towards a particular person, place, product, etc., are noted down to understand their behavioral pattern and their psyche. The group of people in a focus group are chosen by researchers.
Focus groups are formed because this method is a more efficient source of understanding what people think, feel, believe, and expect.
For conducting a focus group, a bunch of people are invited and they are asked to discuss on a given topic. These sessions go on for about 2-3 hours; simultaneously a skilled moderator is making a note of reactions, ideas and opinions of all the participants. The members of the focus group can be selected randomly or based on some commonality between them.
Focus group's opinions and reactions are very important to the industries like advertising, marketing and media. These sectors amend their product, product designs, policies and their strategy based on the focus group's reaction. This is because it often increases the scope of a product and its development.
For instance, what one learns from a book and what one learns from real life experiences are two very different things.
Easy to Form
Focus groups are not difficult to form. A lot is dependent on how you approach the participants and convince them. It is also a quick way of getting results than spending time making analysis using a mathematical or scientific way or by mere observation.
It is a less expensive method of undertaking social research and it often gives insightful outcomes.
Policy and Product Development
Conducting a focus group can help amend a government or a corporate policy in a way which will be beneficial to the beneficiaries of a policy. Also, in case of advertising or product review, a firm can understand where it's going wrong and what amendments it needs to make to increase the demand of their product.
There is an excellent example that can justify the previous point. There was an anthropologist who was working for the UN in Africa. His role was to make the local people aware of the harmful effects of drinking water without boiling it and how it stimulated the spread of malaria. The UN gave the people funds so that they could use it to boil the water.
After a month, when a survey was taken, it was found that no money from the fund was used to boil water and instead they used the fund money to fulfill their other needs.
It is said that after a series of such outcomes in that same period, the UN decided to ask people "what they needed" instead of telling them, "this is what you should need" and not enforcing them with things that the UN thought were important. This also led to an increase in awareness and education programs.
Focus groups don't prove to be beneficial for all researches and the outcomes obtained can be biased or incorrect. Let's also look at the limitations of conducting a focus group in brief.
If the participants chosen for the focus group discussion are biased or insufficient to conduct a research, then the results are not going to be correct. The data obtained from a focus group study is highly unstructured, therefore, making a mathematical model out of it could be difficult or infeasible.
Focus groups often lead to arguments and discussing irrelevant topics, making the discussion no good.
Another major limitation is that the finding of the discussion or interviews may not represent a macro outlook. If a researcher is biased, then it will be seen in the way he analyzes the collected data. He may wrongly judge or assume a behavioral trait observed by him, thus making a wrong conclusion.
Irrespective of the number of limitations, focus groups have proven to be beneficial in cases where researchers have tried to figure out social gestures, trends and general tastes.