This is the text as it appeared in FocusVision News, Volume 1 - Number 3
by Tom Greenbaum
One of the most significant new trends in the focus group research industry in the mid-1990's is the emergence of videoconferencing as an integral part of the focus group research process. This technology initially became available early in the 1990's and has grown at very accelerated rates ever since. This ability to broadcast focus groups to remote locations makes so much sense (if used appropriately) that it is really a "no-brainer" for most organizations. Not only will they save considerable money on the total focus group project, but they will be able to use markets that normally would be eliminated and can involve many more people in the overall research process by using remote videoconferencing.
One of the key questions I have relative to this new trend is whether the existing moderator community is ready and able to make the transition necessary to meet the challenges associated with conducting videoconferencing groups. Specifically, to execute an effective focus group assignment using remote videoconferencing requires some different skills and capabilities than are needed to implement groups using traditional audio and videotape technologies. This is because in the video conference focus group environment the key client personnel are often observing the groups on a monitor from a remote location, rather than watching from behind the one-way mirror as they typically have been in the traditional focus group environment. This new environment places different demands on moderators which will require some to modify their activities to meet the needs of their clients. For example:
- Videoconferencing of groups requires the moderator to be much more self confident than with traditional focus groups, as the individual must feel comfortable presenting and discussing material with a large group of client personnel who are participating in a remote location. No longer is the written word enough, as with remote videoconferencing moderators must have the ability to communicate effectively orally with their clients.
- Videoconferencing requires the moderator to be better organized than is the case with traditional groups, as it is more difficult to make changes and modifications while a group is in session. The clients are not in the back room, but rather can be thousand of miles away, thus making in-depth discussions relative to changes in the discussion guide more complicated. As a result, the discussion guide used in a videoconferencing focus group should be much more thorough than some moderators typically are accustomed to preparing, as there should be no questions as to what will be covered during the session, and how much time will be allocated to each topic...well before the group starts.
- Finally, an integral part of the videoconference focus group is a "top line" summary that the moderator generally will provide after the days sessions have been completed. This requires the moderator to be able to organize his or her thoughts very quickly so they can be discussed with the group in the remote location. Further, the quality of the actual presentation of these thoughts to the remote group will be an important input into the attitudes of the client observer towards the added value that the moderator can bring to a focus group research program. Therefore, moderators will be required to do more than simply summarize the findings from the group. The quality moderators in the future who are involved with videoconferencing will be expected to interpret the findings from the group, drawing substantive conclusions about the subject being researched, and then providing action oriented recommendations for next action steps. Each of these will have to be developed very quickly as "top line" reactions, which will be followed up in more detail in the formal report that follows.
In summary, as the focus group methodology gets more sophisticated, clients will demand more from the moderators. The rapid emergence of videoconferencing of groups is only one example of how moderators are going to have to grow and adapt to the changing environment if they are to succeed in this industry long term.
Thomas Greenbaum is author of "The Handbook for Focus Group Research" and president of Groups Plus.
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