The Use of Focus Groups for Idea Generation: The Effects of Group Size, Acquaintanceship, and Moderator on Response Quantity and Quality

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1 EDWARD F. FERN* Assumptions about focus group interviewing were tested. Individual interviews generated more ideas than focus groups, eight-member groups generated significontly more ideas than four-member groups, differences were found between focus groups and unmoderoted discussion groups, and the effect of acquointanceship was t clearly determined. The Use of Focus Groups for Idea Generation: The Effects of Group Size, Acquaintanceship, and Moderator on Response Quantity and Quality During the past 2 years tnany marketing researchers have reported the successful use of focus group interviewing to solve a variety of problems faced by marketing managers. However, focus groups have received little empirical scrutiny in the marketing literature and virtually study in the literature of any other discipline. We therefore undertook a study to test some widely held assumptions about focus group methodology. Empirical research reports on brainstorming, creative problem solving, and group psychotherapy suggest that some of the assumptions upon which the focus group methodology is based are questionable. Evidence from these research reports is the basis for the research hypotheses which we tested empirically. Our study is an initial effort to assess a widely used research technique employed routinely in a variety of situations. Of the 262 companies responding to a survey by Greenberg, Goldstucker, and Bellenger (977), 47% indicated they had used focus groups. Consumer goods companies led the list with 8% reporting the use of focus groups; marketing research and consulting firms were second with 6%. In comparison. 79% of the con- *Edward F. Fem is Assistant Professor. Department of Marketing. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. This research was supported by the Department of Defense. The author thanks an anymous JMR reviewer for comments which resulted in substantial improvements in the article. sumer goods companies and 9% of the marketing research and consulting firms reported using personal interviews. The use of mail surveys was reported by 79% of the consumer goods companies and 7% of the marketing research and consulting firms. The current popularity of focus groups is t difficult to understand. Many reports on the use of this technique cite the relatively low cost as well as the speed with which a focus group report can be obtained (if transcripts are t required, it may take only a few days). Also, focus groups are apparently flexible because they have been used for; generating hypotheses, exploring opinions, attitudes, and attributes, testing new pmduct ideas, evaluating commercials, and identifying and pretesting questionnaire items. Despite this widespread use, focus groups have t been tested empirically r has a theory of focus group interviewing evolved. A wide range of tions about why focus groups work appears in the available literature. However, agreement among authors on the subject is only at the most superficial level (e.g., participants should have something in common). If a reliable methodology of focus group interviewing is to be developed, more fundamental issues need to be explored. First, some boundaries need to be set for use of the technique. Focus groups are interactive discussion groups. Therefore an individual's behavior in the group Journal of Marketing Research Vol. XIX (February 982), -3

2 JOURNAL OF A^ARKETING RESEARCH, FEBRUARY 982 setting may be influeticed by the presence of other group members. To the extent the presence of others has unintended or unwanted effects on individual behavior, focus groups may be an inappropriate data collection technique. A second issue pertains to focus group methodology. Most researchers in this area have their own "tricks of the trade" for structuring group sessions, which within reason may be essential. However, some general guidelines should be applicable to a specific focus group task regardless of the idiosyncracies of the moderator. A third issue is that naive theoretical explanations about why focus groups work have all too frequently gone unchallenged. Moreover, much of the trade jargon is rhetotical and provides little or understanding of this phemen. Finally, there is empirical evidence to support any of these explanations. Common Assumptions of Focus Group Interviewing Four assumptions about focus group interviewing were explored: () the focus group's output is in some way better than the output of individual interviews. (2) moderators are crucial to the focus group process, (3) groups should be composed of eight to 2 members, and (4) group participants should be strangers. These assumptions were chosen for three reasons. First, although there is little agreement among focus group researchers on the exact methodology to be used, these four assumptions are more widely held than others. Second, the results of studies in the areas of group problem solving, brainstorming. and counseling psychology seem to contradict these assumptions. Because of the contradictory evidence, we believed the more widely held assumptions should receive primary emphasis in this initial study. Third, we considered these assumptions to be representative of the "state of the art." and by choosing them could show that much of what is accepted on the basis of past focus group experience can be tested empirically. The first assumption that the group's output is in some way better than the output from individual interviews generally follows from the intuitively appealing idea that two heads are better than one and that groups benefit from synergy in generating ideas. Focus groups are purported to provide more information which is qualitatively different from that obtained by summing the results of individual interviews (Goldman 962) and a wider range of information, insight, and ideas than can be obtained from individuals (Hess 968). Explanations for this tion include greater spontaneity and candor in groups (Goldman 962), release of group members' inhibitions {Hess 968), and greater anymity or security provided group members (Hess 968). A second assumption is that the focus group moderator's role is crucial in obtaining the desired information from focus groups. The moderator's expertise, personality, and the procedures used are viewed as critical in promoting group interaction. Expertise factors include ability, kwledge in social or clinical psychology, past focus group experience, and product or problem kwledge. Moderator traits deemed important are sensitivity, outward personality, and a genuine interest in people. Moreover, activities considered important include controlling dominant respondents, activating shy respondents, extending the range of the discussion, regulating interactions, coping with interruptions, and counteracting the leader effect. A third assumption is that the ideal group size is eight to 2 members (Merton, Fiske, and Kendall 956; Smith 972). However, focus groups can consist of as few as five members (Sampson 972) and as many as 2 (Hess 968). According to Wells (974). the ideal group size depends on the seating arrangements and the interviewer's personal style. A final assumption is that focus group participants should be strangers. Acquaintances may seriously upset the dynamics of the group and inhibit responses (Smith 972). Payne (976) cajls for screening out certain groups, "who, for some reason, might bias your results." According to her, respondents from the same neighborhood, church, club, or ethnic group are t desirable. Contradictory Evidence Although empirical evidence was found to support the assumptions about focus groups, evidence that seems to contradict these assumptions was found in related fields. In one study, brainstorming groups of undergraduate men generated fewer ideas and lower quality Ideas than those men working alone (Taylor, Berry, and Black 958). Dunnette. Campbell, and Jaastad (963) replicated Taylor's findings with research scientists and advertising personnel. In a problem-solving task (Campbell 968), managers working alone generated higher quality solutions than four-man groups. Studies in psychotherapy raise the question of whether therapists are necessary. Vici et al. (973) found that self-administered training groups were effective in accounting for behavior change among group members. Poser (966) found that groups of mental patients treated by lay therapists (i.e., undergraduate women with background in psychology) scored higher on post-therapy tests than patients treated by cetiified psychiatrists. The evidence seems to indicate that other means of structuring group interaction may be just as effective as using group moderators. Little agreement is found among brainstorming researchers on optimal group size Slater (958) found five members to be optimum for discussing a human relations problem. Osbom (953) suggested five to members as optimum for brainstorming. Others have found difference in the number of ideas produced between fiveand nine-member groups (Bouchard and Hare 97) and between four- and seven-member groups (Bouchard, Barsaloux. and Drauden 974). None of the aforementioned studies varied acquaintanceship. However, Brown (97) has shown that facesaving behavior occurred after the embarrassing act of

3 USE OF FOCUS GROUPS FOR IDEA GENERATION sucking, biting, and licking a rubber pacifier in front of others. Brown and Garland (97) found that male students spent as much time singing in front of acquaintances as they did in front of strangers. When these researchers used "closest" friends as the audience, subjects sang for a significantly shorter time than when acquaintances or strangers were the audience. Although the sex of the audience had effect on male singers (Garland and Brown 972), women sang four times longer in front of men than in front of women. Also, women facing other women felt more inadequate, more foolish, and less similar to their audience, and felt that their audience was more critical of them. The Nature of the Research Task The research hypotheses related solely to a task considered to be exploratory. The purpose of the research was to generate as many different ideas as possible. Therefore caution should be used in generalizing from the particular task used in the study to other tasks frequently performed by focus groups. The study did t call for uncovering motives, evaluating ad copy, or discussing product experiences. Calder (977), from a philosophy of science perspective, delineates three distinct approaches to focus group interviewing. We recognized these differences and purposely constrained the study to exploring ideas relevant to a particular discussion topic. The Discussion Topic The major criterion in choosing a discussion topic was that little or information be available on the topic. A second criterion was that the topic be fairly complex. Some topic areas might raise so few discussion issues that the average person could mention all of them in one interview. A third criterion was relevance to a marketing problem (e.g., eliciting thoughts or ideas). A fmal consideration was the availability of funds for the project. The Department of Defense was interested in an exploratory study on the public's thoughts about "expanding the role of women in the military." This topic appeared to meet the criteiia and its selection provided funding for the project. Moreover, the sponsor agreed to judge the quality of ideas generated in the project. Research Hypotheses The first set of hypotheses embodies the assumption that focus groups provide more information than individual interviews. H J,: Moderated (unmoderated) groups of eight mem- (H,,) bers will generate more different ideas than the combined output of eight individuals. H,,2: Moderated (unmoderated) groups of four mem- (H, 22) bers will generate more different ideas than the combined output of four individuals. The next set of hypotheses addresses the issue of whether the difference between focus groups and individual interviews is related to group size. According to some focus group researchers, the superiority of groups over individuals should increase as group size increases. Hi 3; The difference in number of ideas generated be- (H 32) tween moderated (unmoderated) groups and individuals is greater in groups of eight members than in groups of four members. Whether the combined output of individuals is of higher quality than the output of groups is tested in the following hypothesis. H, 4: Moderated groups will generate ideas of higher judged quality than indivduals. The literature on focus groups suggests that group moderators have an instrumental role in the focus group process. The following research hypotheses test the effect of moderators on idea generation. Hj,,: Moderated focus groups of eight (four) members (H22) will generate more different ideas than unmoderated groups of eight (four) members. Hj 3: Moderated focus groups will generate ideas of higher judged quality than unmoderated groups. As group size increases, the role of the moderators may become more critical. Guidance and management activities would be expected to be more important in large groups than small. This common-sense tion is tested in the next hypothesis. Hjji: For the number of different ideas generated, the difference between moderated groups and unmoderated groups is greater in groups of eight members than in groups of four members. If there is a difference between unmoderated groups and moderated groups, it may be due to the effectiveness of the moderator. This difference is thought to be a result of the moderator's participation in the interview process and is referred to as the moderator effect. The difference between minal groups of individuals working alone and individuals being interviewed should measure the interviewer's effectiveness and is referred to as the interviewer effect. It is generally ackwledged that focus group moderators are required to have more education, skill, and experience than interviewers. By comparing the inten'iewer effect with the moderator effect one can show whether these moderator requirements translate into greater effect in generating ideas. Hj 3,: For the number of different ideas generated, the (H; 32) moderator effect in groups of eight (four) members is greater than the interviewer effect. Eight-member focus groups should generate significantly more ideas than groups of four members if the optimum group size is eight. The brainstorming literature, however, appears to suggest significant difference between these two group sizes. The focus group position on this issue is summarized as: H3,: Moderated (unmoderated) groups of eight mem-

4 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, FEBRUARY 982 (H32) bers will generate more different ideas than moderated (unmoderated) groups of four members. A reason given for using large focus groups is that larger groups produce a greater synergistic effect (Hess 968). A counterargument to the synergism hypothesis is that the incremental number of ideas generated as group size increases will decrease diminishing returns will occur. Testing these competing hypotheses requires the antithetical tion that individuals are groups of one member groups by definition have more than one member. H3 2: The incremental number of different ideas will increase as moderated group size increases from one to eight members. Anymity has been offered by focus group researchers as a factor accounting for enthusiastic, honest, and spontaneous responses among group participants. The anymity afforded by strangers might lead to less inhibited behavior and greater spontaneity of response. These tions are tested in the following hypothesis. H4 Q: FOCUS groups of eight strangers will generate more different ideas than focus groups of eight acquaintances. METHOD Research Setting The study was conducted at the Behavioral Science Laboratory of a large university in the Midwest. Three experimental sessions were held each day over a sevenday period. All data were collected within a relatively short time period to avoid problems such as a news story relating to the discussion topic appearing in the media. The Behavioral Science Lab is t like a kitchen or livingroom setting in which focus groups are frequently held, but does provide several advantages for this type of study. First, the lab is equipped to provide equivalent interview settings across experimental conditions. Second, the lab has recording equipment and a trained technician to ensure that the equipment is set up and operating properly. Finally, the lab had been used previously by commercial market research firms to conduct focus groups..,,,,, Recruiting and Sample Characteristics Because social class homogeneity within focus groups is claimed to be important by authors writing on the use of focus groups, we determined that all respondents in the study should be as homogeneous as possible. Therefore, participants were recruited from the 43-member women's auxiliary of a children's hospital and from a local garden club. As most of the women in the auxiliary and garden club were 3- to 5-year-old middleclass housewives residing in the suburbs, they seemed to meet Goldman's (962) criterion of homogeneity. Payment was a $ donation per participant to the organization. All recruiting was done by a member of the organization from approximately 2 neighborhood units of the auxiliary. The recruiter asked the women to particpate in a study on "job opportunities for women." Every effort was made to maintain the subjects' anymity to the researcher, and the subjects were asked to provide only their first names and the name of their organization. The Design The design was a partial factorial with group size (three levels), group type (two levels), acquaintanceship (two levels), and moderators (two levels) as the factors. Because four or eight individuals were required for a single group observation, the cost of a full factorial design (with 6 experimental conditions) would have been prohibitive. Also, much of the additional information provided by a factorial design would have been irrelevant. The treatment conditions examined are depicted in Figure. Independent Variables The independent variables in the study were group type, moderator, group size, and acquaintanceship. Group type. Group type was varied at two levels. Respondents were either part of an interacting discussion group (real group) or they discussed the topic individually and their ideas were aggregated as though they had been generated by a group (minal group). Direct comparison of eight individuals with eight-member groups would have resulted in a greater amount of redundancy for individuals. Therefore, the transcripts of ideas from individuals were drawn randomly (either four or eight) and assigned to the minal group condition. Within each minal and interacting group, redundant ideas were eliminated (i.e., each idea was only counted once) to make them directly comparable. Moderator. Groups were either moderated or unmoderated. Real groups were moderated by four experienced focus group moderators donated by research firms and One Real No «es Z Figure RESEARCH DESIGN Four Group SIII Group Type Et9ht Real Noninal Real Nonini) Acquaintanceship Acquant. No 3 n'lg 9-4 Yes n Hs 6 n n ' number of Individuals per cell g - nuaber at groups per cell Moderator YBI e n=6 9-4 No 7 n YBS S n-3? 9-4 Vej 9 n-3! gm NO n-s? gm Y(s II 9-4

5 USE OF FOCUS GROUPS FOR IDEA GENERATION advertising agencies. Nominal group interviews were conducted by professionally trained interviewers. All moderators and interviewers were women within the age range of the respondents. Each moderator conducted one group in each experimental condition and the experimental conditions were varied systematically across time periods so time of day would t be confounding. Group size. Groups were composed of either one, four, or eight members. Additional groups of 2 would have been desirable to increase the range of this variable beyond the hypothesized ideal group size and to increase generalizability. However, the additional cost was prohibitive. Acquaintanceship. Acquaintanceship was manipulated by assigning members from different neighborhood units of the 2-unit auxiliary to the stranger condition and members from the same local unit to the acquaintance condition. Choosing acquaintances from the same organization was done for two reasons. First, if acquaintances were less productive than groups of strangers, all eight people in a focus group could be recruited from the same organization. This approach might both simplify respondent recruiting and reduce the cost. The second reason is that finding groups of eight that had stronger friendship ties would be difficult. We determined that more control could be achieved by recruiting acquaintances within an organization and there were practical management implications in doing so. Dependent Variables Two primary dependent variables were used: () the number of different or unique ideas relevant to the discussion topic and (2) the judged quality of ideas. The number of different relevant ideas is simply the total number of ideas relevant to the discussion topic minus the redundant ideas. An idea was counted only once even though it was given by different members of a group. For minal groups redundancy was eliminated after the individual interviews were combined into a group transcript. The second primary dependent variable of interest is the quality of ideas generated. There is little agreement among researchers as to what constitutes quality of ideas. Most operational definitions of quality are specific to the particular task the subjects are asked to do. Some of the definitions that have been used are () originality, (2) feasibility, (3) effectiveness, (4) importance, and (5) uniqueness. Much like the tasks in creative problem-solving and brainstorming studies, the specific task in this study was to determine the perceived consequences of an event. The task differed from brainstorming tasks in that "free wheeling" or wild ideas were t solicited. The focus of the task, therefore, was t on creativity this is t to say that the respondents were uncreative. The purpose of the task was to generate ideas useful to a policy maker in one of two ways: () to provide insights into focal issues for a communications strategy or (2) to suggest areas of public concern to be included in a survey study. Logically, the policy maker should judge the ideas in terms of how useful or how good they might be for his purposes. The policy maker agreed to do the judging task and was provided lists of ideas and several suggestions to help use his time most efficiently. Admittedly, this procedure poses a problem common in focus group research the quality of information is based on a single judgment. Experimental Procedure Upon the participants' arrival at the Behavioral Science Lab, the researcher listed their first names and the names of their organizations. All subjects were greeted at the door and ushered into a waiting room where coffee was available. As attempt was made to isolate individual subjects, strangers had an opportunity to converse and to become casually acquainted during a -minute period. This meeting could have weakened the acquaintanceship manipulation by decreasing anymity. When all subjects for a given session had arrived, every other one on the list was selected for a group session; the rest were assigned to individual sessions. As a result, some pairs of subjects who had driven together were assigned to the same group in the stranger condition. One group moderator reported a pair of friends in her group but she did t think it had an effect on the group's performance. Subjects selected for the group conditions were ushered first into the group room for their discussion. The remaining subjects were then taken, one at a time, to the individual rooms. When the group session was finished, all subjects were reunited and debriefed. Experimental Conditions The experimental conditions were () individuals working alone, (2) individual interviews, (3) groups of four strangers without moderators, (4) groups of eight strangers without moderators, (5) moderated focus groups with four strangers, (6) moderated focus groups with eight strangers, and (7) moderated focus groups with eight acquaintances. Individuals working alone were led to small rooms and told, "Please have a seat, read the instructions, and do as they say. I will be back in about 3 minutes." A set of instructions was placed on a table in front of the subject along with two microphones which were approximately two feet away. Ten minutes usually was required to read the instructions, leaving approximately 2 minutes for idea generation. At the end of 3 minutes, the researcher returned with a post-experimental questionnaire; all subjects had fmished the task by this time. Individual interviews were conducted in the rooms used by the persons working alone. A slight alteration of the seating arrangement was necessary to accommodate the interviewer. The unmoderated group discussions of four and eight

6 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, FEBRUARY 982 members were held at a conference table in a room approximately 2 by 2 feet. Subjects were positioned so that each was approximately two to three feet from a microphone. Each subject was provided the same instructions as those given the individuals working alone. One hour and 5 minutes was allowed for groups of four and two hours was allowed for groups of eight. Moderated focus groups of four strangers, eight strangers, and eight acquaintances were conducted in the same room as were the unmoderated groups. The table arrangement was altered to accommodate the moderator. Focus group moderators chose to instruct the subjects rather than have them read the instructions as in the other conditions. The moderators also used a portion of the available time (approximately 2 minutes) to lead into the discussion topic. However, the total time allotted for moderated focus groups was equivalent to the time allotted to the other groups. A couple of groups in each of the moderated-unmoderated conditions finished before the allotted time was up. In these cases, and when the allotted time ran out, the group discussion was terminated and the post-experimental questionnaire was administered. Data Preparation and Editing Fifty hours of recorded conversation resulted in 6 pages of verbatim transcripts. The researcher randomly selected segments from all transcripts and checked them against the original tapes to ensure the transcripts' accuracy. Two female MBA students edited the transcripts for major ideas (Horowitz and Newman 964). First they bracketed all ideas which included major, subordinate, and ancillary thoughts. Communication and orientation signals (i.e., signals that an idea was forthcoming and questions about the task) were igred. A second check through the transcripts was made to determine which ideas were major. Major ideas were defined as utterances expressing a thought in a meaningful, relevant, and unique way. The thought had to be meaningful to the editor, relevant to the discussion topic, and unique rather than a restatement or elaboration of a previously stated idea. The editors were provided a set of instructions and six randomly selected pages of transcript upon which to practice. In the total number of ideas considered major, the two editors were in agreement 6% of the time. The composite reliability coefficient (Holsti 969, p. 37) was.75.' The disagreements were due mainly to differences in handling () agree/disagree responses to the interviewers' questions, (2) statements that were too general, and (3) examples or illustrations. Several additional decision rules were added to reduce these differences: () simple agreement type responses did t count as ideas, (2) thoughts deemed too general were t counted. (3) statements with obvious but t explicit references were counted, and (4) explained examples were counted but simple listings of examples were t. RESULTS Each of the hypotheses tested consisted of a comparison between two means or among several means and was tested by using the /-statistic (Kirk 968). Figure 2 is a graphic summary of the data. Table reports the mean number of ideas and the standard deviations for each experimental condition. Table 2 lists the contrast coefficients used to test each hypothesis, the observed difference between means, the critical r-values calculated from these differences, and the probability of falsely rejecting the null hypothesis (Type I error). A contrast is simply the difference between two means. Contrast coefficients multiply the means to obtain the differences and vary as a function of the specific hypothesis being tested. Additional information on the technical aspects of the test statistics is provided in the appendix. Groups Compared with Individuals For only those ideas relevant to the discussion topic, minal groups of eight individual interviews generated Figure 2 MEAN NUMBER OF RELEVANT IDEAS AS A FUNCTION OF GROUP SIZE S ISO Individuals ATooe Focus Groups Unrderated Groups SO -- 'The composite reliability coefficient is given by 2(.6O) CR = I +.6 where.6 is the propotiion of statements upon which the editors agreed. Sroup Size

7 USE OF FOCUS GROUPS FOR IDEA GENERATION Table MEAN NUMBER OF TOTAL IDEAS Group size Group type Moderator Cell number Mean Standard deviation One Real Real Four Nominal Real Eight Acquaintanceship Acquaintances , ,4 Nominal 99,7 9, Note: Four observations per cell. significantly more ideas than eight-member focus groups. On average, minal groups of eight members generated 85 more ideas than focus groups of eight members. Therefore, H,,, appears to be rejected. The same result is ted from the analysis involving four individuals individual interviews produced 34.2 more ideas than four-member focus groups. In the comparison of unmoderated discussion groups with individuals working alone, the individuals appear to be more productive. Regardless of whether the comparison is between eight-member groups (H, j,) or fourmember groups (H 22), individuals produce significantly more ideas. For moderated groups the difference between individuals and groups of eight members is significantly greater than the difference between the individuals and groups of four members (H, 3,). This result is t found in the unmoderated condition (H, 33). The gap between individuals and groups is wider at the level of eight members than at four members but is t significant. Additional analyses were done on both four-person and eight-person focus groups of strangers with the total number of different ideas as the dependent measure. These results are presented in Tables 3 and 4. The gap between focus groups and minal groups of eight members {H,) decreases to ideas when total ideas are used and the difference is significant. However, for fourperson groups (H,,j) the difference is t significant. The difference between minal groups and focus groups as group size changes from four to eight (H,,,) does t achieve significance when the total number of different ideas is used as the criterion. A separate analysis of the judged quality of Ideas was conducted. Table 5 shows the mean and standard devia- Table 2 CONTRAST COEFFICIENTS, OBSERVED DIFFERENCES, AND CALCUUTED /-VALUES FOR TESTS O N NUMBER OF RELEVANT IDEAS HMJ Hill H i] Hi 3 Hl^] H] II Hj LJ Hi), H]} HIM H3II H) [3 H4 / I -I 4 I - - vw 5 - Cell number 6 -I Groups vs. individuals Moderator Group' size // Acquain tancesh ip - - Observed difference ,7-37, t-value , Note: The Mest for heterogeneous variances (Edwards 96) was used with four observations per cell and 6 degrees of freedom Probahilitv <.OO , ,4,7.244 >,8.47.6,38

8 Table 3 MEAN NUMBER OF DIFFERENT RELEVANT IDEAS JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, FEBRUARY 982 One Real Real Four Nominal Real Eight Group size Group type Acquaintanceship Acquaintances Nominal Moderator Cell number Mean Standard deviation , ,5 2,2 4 98, ,8 8 4, 28,4 9 S Table 4 CONTRAST COEFFICIENTS, OBSERVED DIFFERENCES, AND CALCULATED f-values FOR TESTS ON TOTAL NUMBER OF IDEAS Hi II H 2 H! Hi 2 Hi ji Hi 32 H2 H2.I2 H22 H23 H232 Hjii Hjii H4 / _ I Cell number 6 - I -I I 8 9 Groups vs. individuals - - -I I Moderator } Grouf ' size Acquaintance sh ip - Observed differences "The transcripts from focus groups of acquaintances were t reedited for the total number of ideas. ' t-value Probability S8.6.7 >.8OO > Table 5 MEAN AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS FOR THE OUALITY OF IDEAS Condition Unmoderated groups Moderated groups Individual interviews Mean Summed quality Standard deviation 92, Mean ' 'Good ideas'' Standard deviation , tion of the summed quality of ideas and the number of "good" ideas for groups of eight members. "Good" ideas are those rated a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale. Results of the analysis are reported in Table 6. Contrary to the prediction of H, ^3, the summed quality of ideas from individual interviews is significantly higher than the summed quality of ideas from focus groups. Individual interviews also account for significantly more "good" ideas than focus groups. Responding to a semantic differential questionnaire item with "conspicuous" and "anymous" as anchors, individuals interviewed alone reported feeling more anymous {X = 5.69) than did individuals in focus groups (X = 4.). This finding seems to contradict

9 USE OF FOCUS GROUPS FOR IDEA GENERATION Table 6 COMPARISONS OF QUALITY OF IDEAS BETWEEN FOCUS GROUPS AND INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS Table 8 COMPARISONS OF QUALITY OF IDEAS BETWEEN FOCUS GROUPS AND UNMODERATED GROUPS Dependent variable Summed quality Good ideas Cell number 8 -I - Observed difference t-value ,4..4 Dependent variable Summed quality Good ideas Cell number I Observed difference t-value Probability Probability the tion that individuals in focus groups use a "hidein-the-crowd" strategy or become uninhibited because of anymity. The same result is found in comparing four-person focus groups (X = 4.6) with individual interviews {X = 5.7). However, difference in felt anymity is ted between four-person and eight-person focus groups. If individuals employ a "hide-in-thecrowd" strategy they might be expected to feel more anymous in larger groups. Apparently this is t the case. Because the interviewers and moderators were t the same people, a semantic differential format was used on the questionnaire to measure moderator-interviewer differences. The bipolar adjectives used were thought to measure characteristics desirable in choosing a moderator. No significant difference is found between how subjects felt about the moderator and how they felt about the interviewer (Table 7). Moderated Groups Compared with Unmoderated Groups Groups led by focus group moderators did t produce significantly more ideas than unmoderated discussion groups. The result is the same whether moderators led groups of four members (H^,2) or groups of eight members [). This comparison was also made for the total number of different ideas. Focus groups are superior by 34.7 ideas for four-person groups and 3.2 ideas for eight-person groups but these differences are t significant at the.5 level. With the judged quality of ideas as the dependent variable, focus groups are t significantly different from unmoderated groups (Table 8). Nor are focus groups Table 7 DIFFERENCES IN AVERAGE RATINGS OF FEELINGS TOWARD MODERATORS AND INTERVIEWERS different in terms of number of good ideas. Several items were included in the questionnaire to measure some dimensions of the atmosphere in focus groups which have been reported by moderators. Responses on semantic differential items (Table 9) indicate focus group participants () found their task more exciting, (2) felt more enthusiastic in doing the task, and (3) found the task more enjoyable. They did t see their contribution to the task as being more spontaneous than that of unmoderated group members, however. Group size is t a significant factor in determining focus group moderators' effectiveness. That is, moderators are more or less effective in groups of eight members than in groups of four members (Hj^i). regardless of whether relevant-unique ideas or total-unique ideas is the dependent variable. Therefore, H^ji is t supported by the data. Individual interviewers are more effective than focus group moderators in eliciting relevant-unique ideas (H23 and H232). Additional support for this result is found when the total number of unique ideas generated in focus group sessions is used in the comparison ^ significant difference is detected. Failure to support the moderator effect hypothesis seems to suggest the reported difference between minal groups and focus groups may be due to the inhibiting effects of group interaction and t moderator-interviewer differences. Effects of Group Size Contrary to the brainstorming reports and in support of focus group researchers, a significant group size effect is found. Focus groups of eight members generated 36.7 more ideas than focus groups of four members. Table 9 COMPARISON BETWEEN FOCUS GROUP AND UNMODERATED GROUP TASK RATINGS Sensitive Sineere Domineering Friendly Interviewer ,34 Moderator t-value tait prob..569, Excitement Enthusiasm Spontaneity Enjoyment Focus groups 6, Unmoderated groups t'value ,48 2-tail prob

10 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, FEBRUARY 982 Additionally, unmoderated groups of eight members generated 46.2 more ideas than groups of four members. These findings tend to support H3,, and H3,3. However, in Table, eight-member groups do t produce twice as many ideas as four-member groups. Additional analyses were done to see whether the data conform to the multiplication of impact principle from social impact theory (Latane and Nida 98). Contrary to the Hess (968) "synergism" hypothesis, social impact theory would have predicted diminishing returns as group size increased from one to eight members (/ = A'', where / = number of ideas generated, A^ = group size, and < r < ). To test this tion, the log transformation of both the dependent variable (number of relevantunique ideas) and the independent variable (group size) was subjected to regression analysis. If the slope of the linear function using log-log coordinates is greater than one (/> ), the synergism hypothesis is supported; if less than one (/ < ), the diminishing returns hypothesis is supported. The resulting function is depicted in Figure 3. The exponent of the power function implied by these data is.7 with 86% of the variance explained (adjusted R^ =.86) by the group size factor. The exponent is significantly different from one (f = 3.5, p <.5). The exponential function derived from the regression analysis is shown in Figure 4. The analysis appears to support the diminishing returns hypothesis. Acquaintanceship The difference in number of relevant ideas between focus groups of strangers and focus groups of acquaintances is 26.7 but is t significant. Because the transcripts from the acquaintanceship condition were t reedited for the total number of ideas, comparison was Figure 3 NUMBER OF RELEVANT-UNIQUE IDEAS AS A FUNCTION OF GROUP SIZE Figure 4 NUMBER OF RELEVANT-UNIQUE IDEAS AS A FUNCTION OF GROUP SIZE 2. m to - h- a y * - 4 Group Size ^ I = 27.2N-^ made between strangers and acquaintances on this variable. One confound should be reported. The number of ideas for acquaintances is slightly inflated. One focus group had been conducted using the set of instructions before the decision was made to t use instructions in focus group sessions. Therefore, this group had the whole time period (5-2 minutes more than the other groups) in which to discuss relevant ideas. This group generated 57 more ideas than the average of the other three groups in this condition. The data were reanalyzed with the outlying group removed. The r-test for unequal n showed focus groups of strangers generated significantly more ideas than focus groups of acquaintances {t = 2.25, p =.25). Because of the magnitude of the quality rating task and the amount of judging time required, the quality of ideas generated by acquaintances was t evaluated C Log I Log N Group Size (Log Spacing) DISCUSSION Several issues may have had an effect on the results. One is whether the sample size was large eugh to provide a fair test of the hypotheses. Because the power of a statistical test depends on sample size among other things, one can reasonably argue that four observations may t have provided sufficient power to detect the moderated-unmoderated group differences. We had three primary reasons for using four groups per experimental cell. First and perhaps foremost was the cost of each observation. Rather than scale down the magnitude of the study to obtain an increase in the number of observations, we decided to keep the sample at four groups per cell. This decision was influenced greatly by the small sample sizes used in the brainstorming and problem-solving studies. The second reason was that the brainstorming studies achieved rather large treatment

11 USE OF FOCUS GROUPS FOR IDEA GENERATION effects with two to four observations per cell. Finally, data from past brainstorming studies were analyzed to determine how large a sample was needed to detect these treatment effects. For example, the Bouchard, Barsaioux, and Drauden (974) study provided evidence of treatment effects of approximately 8 ideas for group size (four- vs. seven-member groups) and 4 ideas for group type (minal vs. real groups). Using an approximation technique provided by Cohen (969). we found that four observations provided a better than 8% chance of rejecting a false null hypothesis. More specifically, to achieve.8 power for the group size effect only three observations would be needed and to achieve the same level of power for the group type effect only two observations would be needed. We used a range of treatment effects (35 to 85 ideas) and error variances (7-57) in this analysis and determined that four observations provided an acceptable level of power. A second issue is the way subjects were recruited and assigned to experimental conditions. Two women from the same neighborhood were allowed to ride together. This fact coupled with the method used to assign subjects to experimental conditions provided the opportunity for two pairs of acquaintances to be assigned to the same eight-member group of strangers. To the extent acquaintanceship inhibits idea production, the subject assignment procedure could account for some of the individual-group differences, as well as the acquaintanceship results. Finally, the -minute waiting period before the discussions began afforded an opportunity for strangers to become acquainted. The acquaintanceship confound is t alarming because () some market research firms allow two neighbors to attend focus groups together, (2) frequently focus group sessions are preceded by coffee and donut get-acquainted sessions, and (3) the usual warmup or introductory period if t the focus group session itself allows ample time for participants to become acquainted. The opportunities for strangers to become acquainted in our study were probably greater than those usually available to focus group participants. The final issue to be mentioned is the nature of the task which includes the discussion topic. Two group moderators pointed out that some women perceived the moderators to be military recruiters. Individual interviewers did t report similar suspicions. Therefore this factor could have influenced the results in favor of unmoderated groups and individual interviews. However, there were differences between conditions in terms of attitudes toward the moderators/interviewers or attitudes toward the military. The task itself generating "lots of ideas" may have been foreign to focus group moderators. Possibly moderators do t recognize the differences in approaches to group interviewing outlined by Caider (977). It is also likely that focus groups are t the appropriate technique to be used in thought-generation tasks. CONCLUSIONS If the market researcher is interested in generating a long list of ideas or thoughts about a relatively complex concept, he/she should consider using individual interviews rather than focus groups. This conclusion is supported by three factors. First, the superiority of individuals is found in groups of four, the size commonly used in brainstorming studies, and also in groups of eight, the size commonly used in focus groups. Second, the finding of greater productivity among individuals is t constrained to focus groups unmoderated groups were also less productive than individuals. Finally, groups are t found to generate ideas of higher judged quality. For both the summed quality of ideas and the number of "good ideas," individual interviews generated ideas of significantly higher quality than focus groups. Caution should be used in concluding that an aggregation of strangers is just as effective in generating ideas as focus groups. Although there are significant differences between focus groups and unmoderated groups in terms of quantity and quality of ideas, the differences do favor focus groups. In particular, focus groups outperform unmoderated groups in terms of the total number of ideas generated. However, the magnitude of the difference dramatically decreases when relevant ideas is the dependent measure. Perhaps focus group participants were so caught up in the excitement and enjoyment of the group experience that they lost sight of the focal topic. Moreover, the warmup conversation may have suggested that wandering from the relevant topic area was acceptable so long as everyone felt at ease and comfortable. Ather explanation for the similarity between focus group and unmoderated group productivity may lie in the sample of women used in the study. The population from which the respondents were recruited is highly educated and may have an abundance of leadership talent. This leadership combined with the structure provided by the written instructions may have reduced whatever advantage focus groups were thought to have. The differences could have been significant had women from a different socioecomic group been selected. Finally, the lack of a focus group/unmoderated group difference may be due to a combination of two factors. First, the presence of other people may inhibit individuals participating in group discussions. A review and integration of studies on the causes of group inhibition is provided by Fem (in press). Feeling less responsible for completing the task when others are available to share the load, individuals working in groups may produce fewer ideas than individuals working alone. Moreover, the inhibiting effects of other group members may be beyond the control of the group moderators. This factor, combined with the ability of lay people to use instructions in the conduct of group research, may account for the lack of significant findings. We find reason to conclude that personal inter-

12 2 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, FEBRUARY 982 viewers were more effective than group moderators the interviewer effect was t different from the moderator effect. The lack of a difference in participant ratings between moderators and interviewers supports this conclusion. The difference between individual interviews and focus groups appears to be a result of the group process which attenuated the productivity of the individuals in groups. Focus groups of eight members generated significantly more ideas than focus groups of four members. Additional support for this finding comes from the unmoderated group data. Contrary to the synergism hypothesis, diminishing returns in idea production occurred as group size increased. Failure to find a difference between group sizes on felt anymity is interpreted as support for the group inhibition idea and rejection of the "hide-in-the-crowd" explanation of the focus group phemen. The effect of acquaintanceship on focus group productivity has t been adequately resolved. In addition to the problems with the acquaintanceship manipulation, the acquaintances may t have been friends. Living in the same neighborhood and belonging to the same organization do t necessarily constitute friendship. More thorough screening of participants could have ensured that closer friendship ties were established. IMPUCATIONS From a market researcher's perspective, individual interviews may be a better alternative for exploratory research than focus groups. The sheer volume of ideas, as well as the quality of ideas, suggests using individual interviews. The cost of conducting interviews, transcribing the tapes, editing the transcripts, and reporting the results may be lower for individual interviews. The group size finding is important for two reasons. A frequent problem facing focus group moderators is that some participants either do t appear or cancel at the last minute. One way to ensure the preferred group size is to overrecruit respondents to replace those who cancel at the last minute. However, if all of the recruited respondents arrive, the moderator must either use all of them, which may cause the group to be too large and unmanageable, or pay those t used and send them home. Our study results seem to indicate that the current practice of overrecruiting may be justified. However, the diminishing returns finding suggests that moderators may t want to use all of the respondents who arrive. The group size finding also suggests that more information may be obtainable by summing the production of two four-person groups than by using an eight-person group. Clearly, the diminishing returns phemen should be explored further. The acquaintanceship results are less certain than the others but do lead to speculation. If a relatively weak acquaintanceship manipulation accounted for the significant results in the reanalysis, this variable seems to be crucial to the success of the focus group technique. Researchers using this technique might be well advised to ensure that strangers are recruited and that they remain strangers throughout the group session. We examined only a few of the many assumptions made about focus group interviewing. The study results cast doubt on the validity of some of these assumptions. If a reliable methodology of focus group interviewing is to be developed, much additional research is needed, APPENDIX PROCEDURES FOR CALCULATING OBSERVED DIFFERENCES AND t-values The summed product of means from Table and the contrast coefficients from Table 2 provide the observed differences. For example, the first contrast (H,,,) in Table 2 compares focus groups (cell 8) with individual interviews (cell ). This contrast can be written as a weighted sum of the means by using the contrast coefficients as follows. )= -85 The differences for the more complex contrasts are derived in a similar manner. For illustrative purposes, the moderator effect versus the interviewer effect (Hj^j) comparison involves the difference between the moderator effect (cell 4 minus cell 3) and the interviewer effect (cell 6 minus cell 5). Using the contrast coefficients, we can write this difference as: ) = 3. The r-statistic used to determine whether the difference between two means is significant is given by I = 2MS error and for more than two means is given by + CyiXy) t = VMS error ^ ;lh V _.-th where C^ = coefficient for the f" mean, X^ - f" treatment mean, MS error = unbiased estimate of the population error variance, and n^ = the number of scores in the/"" treatment level. The degrees of freedom are given hy N j. The calculated /-value for the moderator/interviewer effect hypothesis was obtained by using the latter equation. The f-value (/ =.255) was obtained by ) + (-X2.2) W i^.

13 USE OF FOCUS GROUPS FOR IDEA GENERATION 3 REFERENCES Bouchard. Thomas J.. Jr., Jean Barsaloux, and Gail Drauden (974), "Brainstorming Procedure, Group Size, and Sex as Detemiinants of the Problem-Solving Effectiveness of Groups and Individuals," Journal of Applied Psychology, 59 (April) and Melana Hare (97), "Size, Performance, and Potential in Brainstorming Groups," Journal of Applied Psychology. 54 (February) Brown, Bert R. (97). "Face-Saving Following Experimentally Induced Embarrassment," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 6 (July) and Howard Garland (97), "The Effects of Incompetency. Audience Acquaintanceship and Anticipated Evaluative Feedback on Face-Saving Behavior." Journal of Experimental Group Psychology. 7, Calder, Bobby J, (977), "Focus Groups and the Nature of Qualitative Marketing Research," Journal of Marketing Research. 4 (August), , Campbell. John P. (968). "Individual Versus Group Problem Solving in an Industrial Sample," Journal of Applied Psychology. 52 (June) Cohen. Jacob (969). Statistical Power Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences. New York: Academic Press Inc.. 5. Dunnette, Marvin D., John Campbell, and Kay Jaastad (963). "The Effect of Group Participation on Brainstorming Effectiveness for Two Industrial Samples," Journal of Applied Psychology. 47 (January), 3-7. Edwards, Allen (96), Experimental Design in Psychological Research. New York: Holt. Reinhart and Winston, 4-6. Fem. Edward F. (in press), "Why Do Focus Groups Work: A Review and Integration of Small Group Process Theories," in Advances in Consumer Research, Andrew Mitchell, ed, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Garland. Howard and Bert R, Brown (972). "Face-Saving as Affected by Subjects' Sex. Audiences' Sex, and Audience Expertise," Sociometry, 35 (June) Goldman. Alfred E. (962), "The Group Depth Interview." Journal of Marketing, 26 (July), 6-8, Greenberg. Bamett A., Jac L. Goldstucker, and Danny N. Bellenger (977). "What Techniques Are Used by Marketing Researchers in Business." Journal of Marketing, 4 (April), 6-8. Hess. John M. (968). "Group Interviewing," in 968 ACR Fall Conference Proceedings, Robert L. King, ed. Chicago; American Marketing Association, ' Holsti, O. R, (969). Content Analysis for Social Sciences and Humanities. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. Horowitz. Milton W, and John B. Newman (964), "Spoken and Written Expression: An Experimental Analysis," Journal of Abrmal and Social Psychology, 68 (December) Kirk, Roger E, (968) Experimental Design: Procedures for the Behavioral Sciences. Belmont. CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company. Latana. Bibb and Steve Nida (98). "Social Impact Theory and Group Influence: A Social Engineering Perspective." in Psychology of Group Influence. P. B. Paulus. ed. Hinsdale, NJ: Laurence Eribaum Associates. Merton, Robert K.. Marjorie Fiske. and Patricia Kendall (956), "The Group Interview." in The Eocused Interview. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press. Osbom. Alex F. (953). Applied Imagination. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, Payne. Mclanie S. (976), "Preparing for Group Interview." in Advances in Consumer Research, Beverlee Anderson, ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Poser. Emest G. (966). "The Effect of Therapist's Training on Group Therapeutic Outcome." Journal of Consulting Psychology, Sampson, Peter(I972). "Qualitative Research and Motivation Research," in Consumer Market Re.iearch Handbook. Robert M. Worchester. ed, Maindenhead. England: McGraw- Hill Book Co. (U.K.). Ltd,, Slater, P. E. (958). "Contrasting Correlates of Group Size." Sociometry. 2 (March) Smith, Joan Macfarlane (972), "Group Discussions," in Interviewing in Market and Social Research. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Taylor, Donald W.. Paul C. Ben7. and Clifford H. Block (958). "Does Group Participation, When Using Brainstorming. Facilitate or Inhibit Creative Thinking?" Administrative Science Quarterly, 3 (June), Vici, Franco. Judith Krusell, Bernard M. Bass. Edward L. Deci, and David A. Landy (973), "The Impact of PRO- CESS: Self-Administered Exercises for Personal and Interpersonal Development,"' The Journal of Behavioral Science (November), , Wells, William D. (974), "Group Interviewing." in Handbook of Marketing Research, Robert Ferber. ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., ERRATUM by In the article. "A Robert J, Meyer Model of (February Multiattribute Judgments under Attribute Uncertainty and Informational Constraint" 98). equations 3 and 4 are stated incorrectly. The correct equations follow. (3) (4)

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