Culture & conversation - Pair work in focus groups
A quick post to share some reflections on focus group workshops that I’ve run recently which included participants working in pairs to review online resources.
The workshops were for a specialist audience - teachers, and all needed to include detailed review of content (concepts) and some usability testing (user interface, navigation and format). In all of the workshops, we were looking at non-commercial teaching resources which are available for free to all schools.
Why have participants work in pairs?
- In this (specialist, professional) context, participants working through things with a peer results in some very rich conversations.
- Dividing the workload and splitting into pairs enables the group to review a large amount of content in a short time (eg 3 pairs working for an hour gives you 3 hours worth)
- It preserves and can make very clear, the differences in approach within the larger group.
- It can be a good starting point for participants to develop ideas and responses to the theme of the workshop, setting things up for further discussion later on with the whole group.
How it works
Usually I ask participants to work through a series of tasks in pairs, and note down their thoughts on each.
This “self facilitated” approach is a bit risky - people can go off track, and it also means that some of their attention is focused on navigating through the task list and recording their results. Ideally, a facilitator would do this - you need to have enough staff present to have one dedicated facilitator per pair. Spending some time with each pair is a good middle ground.
Audio recording and transcription
I’ve found recording the conversations, with participants permission (audio, or screen capture + audio) to be extremely valuable. It does mean that you end up with a lot of material to go through, but it’s really worth it to get the level of detail, and understand the experience behind the summarised feedback which participants note down.
For audio recording, voice memos on a smartphone or tablet are fine. Transcription (writing down what was said, and making some notes as you go) usually takes 1.5 - 2 times the recorded time.
Considerations around using recorded conversation
It's important to take care when using recorded conversation - you have a responsibility to ensure that people’s privacy is preserved, and ideas sensitively handled. This is especially important in this type of setup where participants may forget they are being recorded as they get involved in the conversation.
Always remember to:
- Be respectful, and look after your participants - the workshop should be a positive experience and they should get value from attending.
- Ensure that attribution of ideas is clear when the results of the workshop are shared. It should be clear what has come from participants, and which are your own or colleagues ideas.
- Have a plan, but be flexible, and take care of your own energy levels. Don't bounce around trying to keep track of every conversation!