This morning I began to wonder about focus groups.  As I am not a product researcher or marketer, I have only questions.  I’ve found no leads as to how and where focus groups originated.  My instinct tells me that the first of their kind may have taken place in the United States and that they were focused on the effectiveness of particular soap powders or why certain breakfast cereals, jeans or vehicles are purchased.

In Australia today, focus groups are being used to assist political parties to develop policy and national responses to problems much more complex than my preference for a particular brand of chocolate.

Things I wonder if focus groups are held in a political context.

- do focus groups represent the whole community or only those who live in marginal electorates?

- when did we become customers instead of citizens?

- how do people get selected for focus groups?  Is the method different depending on the topic?

- who frames the questions and what kinds of questions are asked, for example, if we’re talking about immigration policy or climate change or aged care

- what weight do focus groups have on decision making?

- do governments ever ignore the outcome of a focus group they have commissioned?  If so, why?

- do focus groups in this context spend time on one issue (focus) on one or many (scatter gun) issues?

- who runs the focus groups and how is the material reported back to the decision makers?

I’d be interested to know.

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