Conducting remote online focus groups in times of COVID-19

  • Limit the number of each group to 4–5 participants, to ensure there is opportunity for all participants to have their say, remain engaged, and reduce strain on the moderator. More effort might be needed to make sure you recruit the right profiles and sample (mainstream vs extremes), or you could consider running additional online focus groups to ensure you cover all your recruitment profiles. In some cases, running a focus group remotely makes it possible to recruit participants across the entire country, as they do not have to come to one specific research location.
  • An online confidentiality agreement can be sent to each participant and signed ahead of time, or gathered online using a tool such as Signable. Alternatively, read the agreement before you start the session, and ask each participant to agree by voice and record the answer: Do you agree to…? YES, NO.
  • Incentives can be paid easily through bank transfer or with an online voucher (e.g. Amazon gift card) if agreed upfront. Paypal Money Transfer is a good option for international focus groups. Alternatively, the session recruiter can often administer payments for you, but will charge a fee for this and may require this money to be paid to them in advance.
  • Keep session time to 60–90 minutes online, instead of more common time of 2 hours for in-person groups. There is not a hard rule about this, but 2 hours is just that little bit harder for people to stay focused and there may also be distractions for some working from home.
Video conferencing tools can help you set-up focus groups remotely (e.g. GoToMeeting)
Brief exercises with participants can be completed using collaboration tools (e.g. Miro)
  • The discussion guide needs to be written for online. In order to keep the time slot narrow down the discussion guide to 3 or 5 key topics
  • Include enough time for introductions and for participants to become comfortable in the session to ensure individuals engage with one another
  • Carefully consider how you will share information or artefacts/stimuli with each other. Will you ask people to have a note-pad with them so they can hold up short answers to questions? Will you share your screen? Will you need others to share their screens? Will you use online collaborative tools? Will you share stimuli before the session? Can you achieve your goals through discussion only? All of these options are viable, make sure you decide beforehand and familiarise with any new technology and instruct clients as appropriate before the session.
  • Asking participants to sign in 10–15 minutes before the session so you have time to chat with each participant to ensure cameras, mics etc., all working.
  • Prepare cards for each participant with the participants name and key facts, it will help keeping track and direct appropriate questions.
  • It helps to order the cards in front of you to mirror the arrangement on the screen (if possible, some platforms rearrange depending on who is talking).
  • If necessary, take issues “off-line” in discussion with participants at the end of the session.

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The UXalliance is a global network of 26 leading user experience firms with a global presence in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa & Oceania