NEWS17 November 2023

Remote moderation could increase focus group discussion, finds study

News UK

UK – Focus groups could generate more open interaction and discussion within groups if moderators are not present, according to research from the University of Bath’s School of Management.

Focus group

The findings are based on a ‘remotely-moderated’ focus group method designed and tested by the research team where questions were posed on a screen and moved along by a moderator watching the group from a different room.

The study, published in Qualitative Research in Psychology, set up two remotely-moderated focus group designs, with the first exploring dietary identity between groups of vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians, and a second context exploring gendered experiences of sexual harassment.

The researcher aimed to provide each group with about five minutes of discussion time for each question but had the flexibility to advance the slides sooner or later depending on the flow of the discussion.

Small silences were ignored by the researchers, as they found that some silences led to subsequent interesting discussion. However, the slide was advanced for longer periods of awkward silence to ensure group rapport did not suffer.

The researchers said a remotely-moderated focus group could help overcome some of the problems a physically present moderator might create, while still incorporating many of the benefits moderation brings.

Dr Annayah Prosser from the University of Bath’s School of Management said: “Without the moderator, the participants seemed particularly willing to go beyond their usual role of answering questions and took over the question-asking role. Group members also extended the reach of questions in interesting ways in situations where discussion stalled.

“We found that the groups talked about things we really didn’t expect them to, and that we hadn’t considered before as a research team. This methodology takes the potential biases of a moderator – quite literally – out of the room and helps us focus on what the group really thinks about an issue.”

Dr Tim Kurz from the University of Western Australia’s School of Psychological Science, who was a senior collaborator on the study, said: “When we first came up with the idea of trying to run focus groups in this way, we had a number of potential concerns. Would people actually talk? Would they stay ‘on topic’? Would the participants feel comfortable with the situation?

“However, we were blown away by not only how smoothly the conversations flowed but also how useful the kinds of qualitative data being produced were for exploring all sorts of potentially interesting and important research questions.

“It turns out that, sometimes, the best thing that you can do as a qualitative researcher is to just get out of the way and let participants talk among themselves.”