Focus groups are best utilized as an evaluative tool, rather than a generative one (such as Facilitate Brainstorming and Charrettes). A Moderator facilitates a small group of 4 to 8 participants by demonstrating or showing them a product or concept. The participants are encouraged to freely give their honest opinions about the product, including suggestions to make it better.
A risk of focus groups is “groupthink” – a social tendency in which individuals agree with the most popular opinion of the group, rather than voicing their own. Groupthink can be lessened or prevented by giving participants a preliminary “homework” assignment before they attend the exercise. For example, if the focus group is about a new website concept related to cooking and recipes, participants may be asked to take photographs and keep a journal detailing how they cook at home, including the ways in which they organize recipes and shop for and prepare ingredients. A homework assignment allows participants to begin thinking about the general topic about a week before they meet as a group, and it gives individual participants an opportunity to come up with their own opinions before hearing others’ opinions in the group setting.