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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2018

9 - Group discussion techniques

Summary

FOCUS QUESTIONS

• What are the advantages and disadvantages of focus groups as sources of qualitative data?

• What are the advantages and disadvantages of the nominal group technique as an alternative source of data?

• What factors might lead you to choose one of these techniques over the other?

Group processes in organizations

Group processes are fundamental to human communication and to the management of organizations. If you are investigating an organization, groups rather than individuals are central to organizational culture and much of the work of the organization. Groups of one kind or another dominate organizational life: staff meetings, senior executive groups, committees, task forces, governing bodies, user groups. Each of these can have a major impact on the choices an organization makes and the manner in which it implements these choices. It is therefore appropriate to consider gathering qualitative research data from groups of staff and clients, as well as from individuals.

A particular advantage of using groups in this way is that a variety of perspectives and explanations may be obtained from a single data-gathering session. The sessions may be straightforward to set up, especially if a pre-existing group is used, and usually take less than two hours to complete. In a group situation many people are prompted to say or suggest ideas which might not occur to them on their own: we are a social species. Finally, participants frequently express a high degree of satisfaction with the outcomes of such processes.

The disadvantages often are all too apparent. A group can be dominated by a strong individual, perhaps a senior manager, with the result that its members acquiesce to a single viewpoint and perhaps do not even bother to mention their own convictions. Much the same thing can happen if membership of the group is heterogeneous – consisting of both professional and non-professional staff, perhaps, with the professionals assuming (incorrectly) that they know everything, or of professionals and users, with the professionals again tempted to make the same mistake. Or a group can run away with an appealing idea suggested early in discussion and fail to consider alternatives that may be equally valid.