Best Practices for Virtual Focus Groups

Dominique Laverdière, CRHA & Sean M. Hayes, PsyD

In a world where we have had to abruptly change our practices, and face to face activities are no longer possible we have had to be creative and find new ways of connecting.  Unfortunately, transposing face to face activities to a virtual setting will not yield the same results and you will find it not as efficient.  In the case of focus groups, we have compiled together best practices based on our experience with face to face and virtual settings as well as research on the subject. 

Moderator

  • One or Two Moderators, experienced with user functionality and usability of meeting platform, as well as skills and experience in online virtual groups.

Recruitment & Enrolment

  • Maximum of four (4) to eight (8) participants per virtual Focus Group.
  • Over-recruiting by two or three participants is possible as a risk mitigation strategy for ‘no-shows’. However, if there are no-shows, Moderator be prepared for all attendees to participant and to distribute honorariums equitably.

Preparing Group Participants In Advance

Technical Support

  • Provide participants’ detailed instructions and access to about the virtual meeting app/ technology to be utilized.
  • Validate that each participant has bandwidth and hardware to access the virtual meeting.
  • Schedule 5-minute ‘test-run’ of the virtual meeting with each participant.
  • Offer brief tutorial to each participant for virtual meeting features, video and audio features, navigation including:
    • how to ‘raise hand’ to alert Moderator you wish to comment or question;
    • how to use “chat function” to comment or ask question.

Preparation

  • Confirm with participant they have booked the focus groups time in their work calendar, and that they will be available to for entire online focus group.
  • Clarify importance of on-time start of focus group, as late attendees are disruptive.
  • Make sure participants understand they need to be in a quiet, confidential and uninterrupted space at time of online focus group, out of vicinity of background noise, such as fax machines, secondary phone lines, televisions and that microphones should be muted when they are not speaking.

Participation Guidelines

  • Provide clear Guidelines for participation that articulate the differences between ‘live” and virtual focus groups.
    • Speak clearly, and one at a time and only when directed to by Moderator
    • Cross-talk need be avoided at all times, as overwhelms audio technology and becomes “noise”.

Etiquette

  • Do be courteous to other participants.
  • Keep body movements minimal, as excessive movement will interfere with microphone transmission.
  • Do move and gesture slowly and naturally.   
  • Do maintain eye contact by looking into the camera.  Taping a photograph of a person close to the video camera on your computer provides focus.
  • Do dress appropriately and avoid “noisy” jewelry.

Informed Consent

  • Informed consent and research/participant honorariums, data storage, confidentiality of data are aligned with standard informed consent for live focus groups.
  • Can also integrate “verbal consent” option at outset of Focus Group.
  • Informed consent should be approved and signed, minimum 3 days prior to the focus groups.

During the Focus Group

Virtual Focus Group Opening & Registration

  • Moderator and participants all register with first name.
  • Re-iterate Group to start on time; late attendees to be blocked.
  • Have technical support available and on-call to support participants who struggle with access or program.

Introductions

  • Moderator introduces meeting and welcomes each participant by first name.
  • Moderator reviews focus group purpose and outcomes.
  • Moderator reviews “Guidelines for Participation” and validates from each participant his/her understanding and consent.
  • Moderator reminds participants of his/her role.
  • If consent is obtained verbally, display the text word for word as in the consent form. At the end of the statement, ask each participant to indicate their consent to participate or drop off.
  • Moderator leads “round robin” of participant self-introduction.

Focus Group Activities

  • Keep slides simple and straightforward.  Displaying questions on slides as the moderator would pose them will keep focus.
  • A round-robin approach can help facilitate conversation.  Each participant can answer when they are called on or say “pass” if they do not wish to answer. 
  • Moderator will remind for participants to share more comments by using chat function, or ‘holding up hand”.

Closure

  • At completion, utilize basic evaluation tool on assessment platform for participants to evaluate their experience, value of the process and recommendations.

REFERENCES

Forrestal, Sarah G., Angela Valdovinos D’Angelo, and Lisa Klein Vogel. 2015. “Considerations for and Lessons Learned from Online, Synchronous Focus Groups.” Survey Practice 8 (3). https://doi.org/10.29115/SP-2015-0015.

Kite, J., Phongsavan P., 2017. “Insights for conducting real-time focus groups online using a web conferencing service” Version 1. F1000Res. 2017; 6: 122. Published online 2017 Feb 9. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.10427.1

Thomas, Faith; 2010, Inc.com, 15042020, https://www.inc.com/guides/2010/12/5-tips-for-conducting-a-virtual-meeting.html

Deborah K. Mayer1,2, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN; Stefanie Jeruss1, MS; Susan K. Parsons1,2, MD, MRP, “Virtual Synchronous Focus Groups”

1Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies, Tufts-New England Medical Center

2Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA