How to gain insight into opinions

Date: 30/08/2014 Written by: Rosie 3 minutes to read.
Research focus: Focus groups- vs- one to one interviews

The traditional survey is an effective research method, but if you want to gain a deeper insight into people's beliefs, attitudes and opinions then focus groups and interviews are the best methods. They allow you to explore important topics without the restriction of a structured research method. Below, we have given an overview of what focus groups and one-to-one interviews are, how to decided between them and how you would analyse the information.

We’ve all heard the saying that “everyone is different”, so if this is the case, we can assume that people have different thoughts and attitudes. After all, we are not all robots. So when a company or government department wants to find out why people, for example, choose unhealthy food more frequently, or why some gamble their earnings and other people save, a range of responses and reasons can be anticipated. But how would you gather all of those views and attitudes?

Within the realm of qualitative research methods, it would be ideal to carry out some sort of interview in order to gain as much insight as possible. In which case, you can either carry out a focus group or a one-to-one interview; both provide insight but at different levels. Gaining insight into attitudes and behaviours is vital to understand human behaviour, providing information as to why individuals think and behave in certain manners.

What are focus groups?

Focus groups are used to examine attitudes among a group; usually a group of 8-12 individuals is used, with sessions lasting around 1-1.5 hours. In addition to examining attitudes, focus groups allow participants to discuss their thoughts with others and explain themselves. Because of this, focus groups are able to generate more than just insight into attitudes, you are able to gain knowledge of how those different attitudes are accepted by  others.

For example, someone may say that they buy unhealthy food because it tastes better and is convenient; another participant may argue that healthy food can be just as tasty and suggest alternatives, therefore questioning the attitude towards food that the first person held. The facilitator will use a discussion guide to ask certain questions and initiate a discussion in the group.

What are one-to-one interviews?

One-to-one interviews, also known as depth interviews, are carried out between the interviewer and interviewee (the hint really is in the name!). Just like focus groups, the interviewer usually has a discussion guide to use throughout the interview. One-to-one interviews tend to be used when looking into sensitive topics that participants may not be comfortable to discuss in a group. There are two main types of interviews; structured and unstructured.

Structured interviews have a set order of questions that the interviewer must follow. Unstructured interviews  are more flexible and allow the interviewer to pretty much go with the flow – if there’s a point of interest at any point during the interview, the interviewer has the ability to pursue that and not stick to the order of the discussion guide.

How do I decide?

Well, that depends on what is being researched, and the type of data the researcher would like to gather. If the topic is more sensitive, it would make sense for the researcher to select a one-to-one interview rather than a focus group. However, if the researcher would like to see how different views interact together, going with a focus group would be more logical.

How would you analyse the information?

A simple and easy method of analysing focus groups or one-to-one interviews would be to use thematic analysis. Thematic analysis is a process whereby themes are generated from the data and information gathered through the research, which can be grouped together into super themes. In order to carry out the analysis, transcripts of the interviews or focus groups must be completed, which will then be analysed for reoccurring themes. These themes will highlight what the key insights and findings are in a research project, which will also provide insight into where certain areas are lacking in some aspects (e.g. a research project on healthy eating found that individuals weren't motivated to eat healthily, which appeared as a theme, but there was no theme explaining why people weren't motivated).

Want to find out more? Send me an email: ammar@social-change.co.uk 

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