The Association for Qualitative Research
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Social Nicities

It's not a question of wearing white gloves or carrying a clean handkerchief, but there is such a thing as etiquette at group discussions. The essence of the qualitative industry is our relationships with each other, with clients, moderators, and recruiters all having key roles, but just how should those who run groups behave?

IN HOME GROUPS

The basic rule is that moderators and observers should display basic courtesy and consideration towards the recruiter or hostess and her home. They should avoid the following:

  • Late or unannounced arrival
  • Requests to use the telephone for routine business calls
  • Moving furniture, ornaments, plants, etc. without first asking permission
  • Demands for refreshments
  • Groups and any discussions afterwards over running the allotted time for the session

There are steps moderators can take to ensure the smooth running of discussions. They should, before the group (or depth)

  • Dress appropriately for the group discussion
  • Arrive at least 20 to 30 minutes before the start of the group to allow time to pre-plan
  • Give the recruiter necessary instructions about procedure before starting the group
  • Greet the client observer and advise them on where to sit

After the group (or depth), they should tidy up and discuss any questions concerning recruitment with the recruiter. Any major problems should, however, be dealt with the field office to avoid any misinterpretation or confrontation.

Etiquette for observers is a difficult topic, but here are some pointers. Before the group:

  • Inform the moderator whether an observer will and will not be attending
  • Insist that the observer arrives 20 to 30 minutes before the group is due to begin, dressed appropriately for the socio-economic group of respondents attending
  • The moderator should be informed of the extent of the client's participation
  • Above all, try to ensure that observers relax and enjoy the group

If a group goes wrong for whatever reason, this should be discussed and resolved with the moderator, while the recruiter and respondents are out of ear-shot.

The recruiter, meanwhile, has one main task. Before the group (or depth), they must greet all those involved and make them feel at ease. They should also:

  • Ensure sessions commence punctually
  • Keep the house quiet throughout the session, the room clean and tidy, and lay out comfortable seating in an appropriate manner
  • They should indicate whether or not smoking is permitted and order taxis as and when relevant

After the group (or depth), recruiters still have a role to fill. They must:

  • Ensure all necessary forms are signed by the respondents and handed back to the moderator along with any leftover incentives.
  • Return any new products used for the research to the moderator to ensure confidentiality.

IN VENUE GROUPS

The etiquette here is similar to that at in-home groups, but there should always be a hostess available, regardless of venue type. She should be given the incentives and signature sheet by the moderator, in exchange for the recruitment questionnaires.

As for moderators, they should tell respondents if they are being watched or filmed, and stress the confidentiality of any video material. They should also end sessions on time.

For observers, the rule of thumb is discretion. When they arrive at the viewing facility, it is important that observers inform the hostess discretely, before being shown to the viewing room to observe the session. They must also appreciate that the dynamics of the group can be severely disrupted by interruptions or noises audible from the other side of the mirror. If for any reason a client wants to intervene with the running of the group, it is courteous to wait until a natural break occurs. In an emergency, the hostess can take a note into the moderator.

The recruiter's main task, meanwhile, is to ensure the recruitment questionnaires are available for the moderator before the group kicks off. If respondents are sent by taxi to the venue, they can be handed the questionnaires in a sealed envelope, marked with the project details and moderator's name and company, with clear instructions to hand the envelope to the hostess.

They should be briefed thoroughly about where they are going. If necessary, the recruiter must organise taxis for the outward and return journey. It is important to allow sufficient time for respondents to arrive and depart on time. When the group's over, respondents greatly appreciate a call from the recruiter after the group, to ensure they have arrived home safely and the group met their expectations.

 

Nicky Marchant
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 1999