A good preparation of the first 15 minutes is crucial for a good development of the discussion. Partcipants need to warm up with the moderator and with the other people in the room.
- Have table tents with first name of participants prepared. Let Participants grab their name and take a seat. If possible, put quiet participants on a seat opposite to you and chatty people next to you so you can mildly decelerate the over-eager ones and actively seek for opinions from quieter people.
- After a brief welcome ask if they have taken part in a focus group before and if they are familiar with the statement of consent as a standard procedure. Read it out loud and let it sign; collect forms.
- Inform about length of discussion and incentive. Then, introduce yourself, the assistant moderator and to the purpose of the discussion.
- The actual discussion will always refer back to participants’ personal opinions, attitudes and ideas. As a rule of thumb, it’s always helpful to start with specific experiences “What is your experience with” and taking it from there to a higher level: “How does that translate to …”
- If you want to explore a subject, compare and contrast opinions in the group, invite quiet participants to contribute.
- Probing Questions can be horizontal or vertical. Horizontal Questions digg deeper into an expressed statement (“How, why, why not…?”) Vertical questions will ask to widen the view for different aspects of an expressed statement (“Put yourself into the other person’s role”, “Would you have thought the same, if it was in a different country/context … ”
A more detailed categorisation of probing questions comes from Changing Minds:
When they are vague or have not given enough information, seek to further understand them by asking for clarification.
- What exactly did you mean by ‘XXX’?
- What, specifically, will you do next week?
- Could you tell me more about YY?
Sometimes they say things where the purpose of why they said it is not clear. Ask them to justify their statement or dig for underlying causes.
- Why did you say that?
- What were you thinking about when you said XX?
If they seem to be going off-topic, you can check whether what they are saying is relevant to the main purpose of inquiry.
- Is that relevant to the main question?
- How is what you are saying related to what I asked?
Completeness and accuracy
You can check that they are giving you a full and accurate account by probing for more detail and checking against other information you have. Sometimes people make genuine errors, which you may want to check.
- Is that all? Is there anything you have missed out?
- How do you know that is true?
- How does that compare with what you said before?
One of the most effective ways of getting more detail is simply by asking the same question again. You can use the same words or you can rephrase the question (perhaps they did not fully understand it first time).
- Where did you go?
- What places did you visit?
You can also repeat what they have said (‘echo question’), perhaps with emphasis on the area where you want more detail.
- He asked you to marry him??
When they talk about something vaguely, you may ask for specific examples. This is particularly useful in interviews, where what you want to test both their truthfulness and the depth behind what they are claiming.
- Sorry, I don’t understand. Could you help by giving an example?
- Could you give me an example of when you did XXX?
- Tell me about a time when you ___.
- When they have not given you enough information about something, ask them to tell you more.
- Could you tell me more about that, please?
- And what happened after that?
To discover both how judgmental they are and how they evaluate, use evaluative question:
- How good would you say it is?
- How do you know it is worthless?
- What are the pros and cons of this situation?
Particularly if they are talking in the third person or otherwise unemotionally and you want to find out how they feel, you can ask something like:
- And how did you feel about that?
- When you do this, do be careful: you may have just asked a cathartic question that results in them exploding with previously-suppressed emotion.