Which Participants to Select

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Q: How should I select individuals for a focus group?

A: Generally, once you have identified the subgroups you need to tap into, pull a random sample within that group. Hand-picking participants, such as employees considered to be vocal or opinion leaders, is generally not recommended. You tend to hear what you’ve already heard from these people. What you need is to listen to a cross-section of your audience to hear what you haven’t heard before from the people who don’t usually come across your path.

You’ll also need to decide whether to mix people with different demographic characteristics or to put them in separate sessions. If you’re conducting focus groups to pretest reactions to a new office product, you’ll probably want to have separate sessions for administrative assistants and for managers. They will use the equipment differently and have different roles in purchasing decisions. Internally, on many communication-related subjects, you should separate managers from non-managers to get more candid information on how staff meetings and other face-to-face communication actually occurs. However, if you’re asking questions about carpooling or cafeteria menus, there’s no need to separate these groups.

Angela D. Sinickas

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