Focus Groups for clubs

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Key Insights

  1. Create an atmosphere of trust and confidence: Try to use a third-party to run focus groups if you can
  2. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good: what focus groups can do is to help to open a discussion that wasn’t there before
  3. Don’t bristle at criticism: focus groups can be about letting off steam, which can allow the discussion to move onto solving problems, not just critiquing them

Focus Groups are a research tool, and they are used in consultation & engagement programmes by clubs. The University of Surrey Social Research Update says of them:

  • Focus group research involves organised discussion with a selected group of individuals to gain information about their views and experiences of a topic.
  • Focus group interviewing is particularly suited for obtaining several perspectives about the same topic.
  • The benefits of focus group research include gaining insights into people’s shared understandings of everyday life and the ways in which individuals are influenced by others in a group situation.
  • Problems arise when attempting to identify the individual view from the group view, as well as in the practical arrangements for conducting focus groups.
  • The role of the moderator is very significant. Good levels of group leadership and interpersonal skill are required to moderate a group successfully.

Clubs can use them either for ongoing Fan Engagement programmes, or for one-off issues; they can use them as a stand-alone tool, or as part of a process of surveying, for example before, during and after the season ends.

What’s important is that people are able to speak honestly and openly about the issues concerned, and with with the guidance of a moderator. The moderator is particularly important because it enables those who might struggle to express themselves to speak up, and sometimes prevents those who are more opinionated or confident from taking over the meeting. Having a moderator who simultaneously has the confidence and respect of the group, and is able to fulfil the function of a focus group, is vital.

A good cross-section of attendees is also important where clubs are concerned. If your focus group applies to a very general area, eg: ticketing, then a good cross-section of social, economic, ethnic and other groups is vital. However if your group concerns for example, disability access and facilities, able-bodied representatives won’t really bring much value, and it’s best to focus on a cross-section of the specific group concerned. Survey Monkey provide guidance on both ‘random sampling’ using Excel, and how to create a ‘statistically significant’ number of people to survey. We’d advise that you familiarise yourselves with these two important factors when it comes to choosing your participants.

Here’s some other advice for clubs:

  1. Don’t try to perfect the process: follow some professional guidelines, like this from B2B International or this from Citizens Advice, and think carefully about what you’re doing, of course, but in many ways it’s about getting on with it, and guiding a discussion, not perfecting a process.
  2. Expect criticism, but deal with it constructively: There is bound to be some, but reflect on it, don’t bristle. Admittedly, where clubs are concerned it can be a bit different to other organisations or businesses, but the face-to-face nature of this process is really worthwhile, most of all because where there is criticism it can be discussed, understood better and in context.
  3. Use a third party where you can: The key is that you use someone someone who can allow people to have the conversation they want, without pushing it in a pre-determined direction. Gentle probing and encouragement – plus being able to prevent the more opinionated people in the group from taking over – really opens up people’s confidence to talk about things as they see them.

What you must avoid is using focus groups as the only form of Fan Engagement, but as part of a mixture of ways to listen and engage in dialogue with your fanbase, offline and online.

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