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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The gems from my reader this morning -

from Johnnie Moore via David Gurteen via Esto Kilpi -(I love how we pass it on)  Confusion is not ignorance.

from Chris Corrigan – Simple instructions for building a question – via Anecdote Circles.

from Seth Godin - “As soon as you work hard to please everyone, you have no choice but to sand off the edges, pleasing some people less in order to please others a bit more.” Could someone please pass this one on to politicians generally?

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Always the beautiful answer who asks the beautiful question

e e cummings

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator, Sydney



I like to ask participants about their hopes, concerns and expectations before a workshop.  Here’s a visual of one group’s responses. These can be the starting point for agreements on how the group will work together.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney


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istock-question-mark-and-chairs1Participants in a meeting or workshop often have questions they bring into the room. Holding those questions in their head for the ‘right time’ to ask them can sometimes get in the way of what’s happening right now.

Before a presentation or workshop commences you can clear heads and help everyone begin to understand what’s on the minds of those in the room.

Ask if anyone has any question that they hope the presentation or workshop will answer for them. Record the questions so everyone can see them. Post them as a checklist. Leave space for any answers that may emerge during the course of the day.

Knowing what the audience’s questions are will give presenters confidence that their presentation includes content of interest. It also gives them the opportunity to incorporate any answers that may not have been included in their original presentation.

After the presentation, check back.

“Have you heard responses or answers to your question(s)?”

“Have other questions emerged for you?”

Refer to the list throughout the workshop as useful for the group.

Acknowledgements: Shoshana Faire for this suggestion that keeps on being useful. Photo: iStockphoto

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney- business and strategic planning – team conversations

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney

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