The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

FAQ: Running Qual Research Groups

These are the answers to some of the questions people frequently ask about running Groups as part of a qual research project. If you cannot find the answers to your question, please ask us.

How many groups do I need to do?

It depends! This can vary according to how varied the sample is (and whether it needs to represent a tightly-focused group of consumers, versus a range of audiences), whether the aims are developmental or evaluative, and whether there’s any need for regional diversity in location … Obviously representing wider audiences and geographical variation will result in larger sample size, especially when research is likely to be critical in determining future development. For commercial projects, a loose rule of thumb is between 4-10 group discussions.

How many respondents should there be in a group?

The general average for UK groups is 8 respondents (although some clients and agencies can tend towards US norms of 10-12, while others can prefer more intimate sessions of 6-7 respondents). When respondent numbers fall to 4-5, this is typically referred to as a ‘mini-group’ – these can be very beneficial for more detailed probing of individual issues than would be possible with a greater number of people.

How do I select a sample?

This depends on the subject of research, and on the audience a client hopes to reach. Some may have in mind a niche audience of 16 year olds who play video games, so the overall sample size can be quite small. Other samples, especially in social research, may be required to represent a wider audience. Other commissioners may need to explore a broader range of consumers. A sample can be structured by age, sex, regionality, attitudinal segmentation, usership or non-usership of a certain product … although if each of these is applied rigorously, one can end up with an overly large sample. In practicality, a compromise position is usually reached allowing the study to cover most bases whilst keeping within the budget.

How long should a group discussion last?

Most groups in the UK last for one and half or two hours. Two hour groups are becoming increasingly common as this tends to be the norm across Europe. Longer sessions (three hours or more) are sometimes deployed for workshops or brainstorming sessions. Shorter groups (c. one hour) are also used when the subject under discussion is quite simple or the logistics of the project demand that more than two groups are held in one evening.

Should I do depths or groups?

Choice of groups vs. depths will vary according to subject matter, specific aims of the project and sometimes how tricky the audience is to recruit. Depths tend to be used when one really needs to understand individual motivations, behaviour and responses to a particular issue, especially when the subject matter is more sensitive. Groups tend to be more useful for creative exploration of a particular issue, when one needs to see and debate contrasting views, and when one is seeking consensus – So what is the best way forward etc.? Groups tend to be a more cost effective and efficient tool and can be more easily viewed by clients.

What are appropriate incentives for respondents?

Mainstream consumers of mainstream products tend to receive between £25 and £40 for a group discussion although upmarket consumers of hard to find products (Ferrari drivers!) may require £100 or more. Similarly, influential B2B respondents (Finance directors etc.) will also require incentives somewhat above the consumer norm (although some B2B respondents prefer a charitable donation). At the other end of the spectrum, children tend to be paid less than adults, typical respondents fees being £15 or so.

What is the best setting for groups?

There is some debate in the industry about this! In-home can provide a more relaxed / less pressured environment for respondents whilst some feel that viewing facilities place respondents in an unnatural setting which stifles their responses. On the flipside others argue that the logistics of qual research today demand more sophisticated environments – it can be quite tricky trying to accommodate video cameras / clients / extensive stimulus in the typical front room. Others also argue that the more formal studio or hotel environment can provide a more workmanlike environment for respondents, it being more tricky for them to hide on the sofa without contributing.

How long does it take to recruit a group discussion?

It depends on a number of factors:

  • How complex specific recruitment criteria are
  • And how tightly one needs to adhere to these criteria
  • How easy vs. difficult the audience is to find – beer drinkers or Hyundai drivers
  • Do you have lists or will the recruiter have to free-find
  • Whether the respondents have to complete a task prior to the research

So depending on the interplay of the above factors one can convene a group within a couple of days or up to a month. Typical lead time from agreement of sample spec to first fieldwork, however tends to be in the region of 1-2 weeks.