Survey or Focus Group: Which to Use When
If you were left with more questions than answers, you might consider focus groups next time in place of, or in addition to, a survey. Focus groups flesh out complex topics, clarify conflicting responses, and get at the meaning behind abbreviated responses. Focus groups also provide an opportunity to ask additional probing questions – questions you didn’t think to ask on the survey.
Several factors determine whether a survey or focus group is more appropriate:
- The study topic
- Respondent characteristics
- The depth of response you’re seeking
- How you will use the information you collect
- How much you already know about the topic
Although a combination of the two approaches is often desirable, here are some general guidelines for when to use a survey and when to use a focus group:
Use a SURVEY when:
- You need a little information about a lot of different topics.
- You think you already know some of the answers.
- You want to know the frequency with which an answer is given.
- Decisions you will be making must be based on numbers.
- The people you want to respond to your survey are generally interested enough in the topic that they will complete the survey.
- The people you want to respond will likely provide thoughtful answers.
- Most potential responders would not feel comfortable talking about the topic in the presence of others
- The topic is so controversial that it would cause a distracting polarity if asked about within a focus group.
- You have already defined key issues through a qualitative approach (focus groups, interviews, etc.) and want to know what the larger population thinks.
Use a FOCUS GROUP when:
- You don’t know what the issues are.
- You want to hear a wide diversity of opinions.
- You have a deep or complex issue you want to understand.
- You are trying to develop some preliminary theories of why things are they way they are.
- You want detailed information on a specific issue or problem area.
- You want to hear about people’s deep feelings, insights and perceptions.
- It is strategically or politically important to include a wide variety of opinions.
- Some of your questions will require probing or prompting to elicit useful information.
- People will need time to ponder the answers to your questions in order to provide thoughtful responses.
- Some people may not be sure how they feel until they have the opportunity to hear what others have to say about the topic.
- Solving the issue will require the insights or historical perspectives of people close to the issue.
Use BOTH when:
- Your survey produces unexplainable, inconsistent, or unremarkable data. Follow it up with a series of focus groups.
- You need to develop a survey but are not sure where to start. Hold a few focus groups to generate targeted, meaningful questions to include on your survey.
Figuring out which approach to take can be daunting. If, after you read this, you’re still stuck about which way to go, I can help. I’m offering a free 15-minute consultation. Call me at 503-287-0693. Or email me at email@example.com to set up an appointment.