BMG Research’s business is finding the best way to communicate and consult with extremely diverse audiences. Every project the agency undertakes brings with it its own particular communication challenges: diffuse audiences, geographic, linguistic and cultural differences.
When working on Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s budget consultation, one particular communication challenge was involving young people in a process which, at the best of times, carries a rather staid image. Being a progressive and forward thinking council when it comes to consultation, Stockport MBC enthusiastically took up BMG Research’s proposal to carry out an online focus group with young people.
The motivation for using this method was clear. As with any particular research audience and subject there are some methods more appropriate than others, and, whilst online research is very far from a panacea, particularly in the social and economic arena, the method has a lot to offer.
Most of Stockport MBC’s budget consultation was conducted offline, but young people were difficult to attract to traditional focus groups. Because young people are a demographic with a very high level of computer literacy, an online method proved ideal in terms of recruiting participants, practicality and convenience for all involved.
Technology too was once a barrier to the efficacy of online research. This has changed a great deal in the last decade with the spread of high speed computers and the Internet. As a market research agency with a vested interest in the opportunity provided by online methodologies, BMG has developed its own in-house software suite, v- Com, feeding into the design process all of the agency’s wealth of experience of carrying out focus groups both on and offline.
There are rightly concerns about security in a ‘chat’ environment, particularly where young people are involved. To combat this BMG Research recruited participants to Stockport’s budget consultation face-to-face, in street, using a professional focus group recruiter and provided participants with a user name and password to log on to a secure access website. The recruiter also ensured that participants had sufficient keyboard skills to be able to take part in the discussion.
Where online research comes into its own is in increasing the level of interaction possible and in the depth of response. Interaction between participants in online groups has to be encouraged by the moderator, but the method lends itself to easy interactivity:
• participants see and respond to all comments in their own time
• it ensures everyone has the freedom to express their opinion and that each respond to each question
• the moderator can easily direct attention to particular comments to stimulate real-time discussion
• private 1-2-1 messaging by the moderator allows exploration of specific points with any individual, without distracting from the main discussion
• greater degree of moderator control in general, managing group personalities is made easier
• all respondents may ‘talk’ or type at the same time and interact with each other freely throughout the discussion, unprompted
• often greater depth of response in online groups as anonymity can elicit more information from each respondent
• less opportunity for chit-chat as responses have to be typed
• comments are recorded as they are typed
Feedback from participants in the Stockport groups included:
“You don’t have to leave warmth of home or find babysitters.”
“I’d just like to say it has been really nice to have a forthright and intelligent discussion and how it has been a pleasure discussing with people who have a range of viewpoints.”
“Yes, definitely I would do it again.”
“Yes, I would do it again, deffo.”
“I had a great time.”
The Stockport MBC Budget Consultation groups started at 6:30pm and lasted for 90 minutes each. Seventeen young people were recruited to each session.
The discussion was professionally moderated by BMG Research and a member of IT staff was on hand to help with any potential technical difficulties. Respondents were assured that verbatim quotations reported would be anonymised and would not be attributed to named individuals. A full transcript of the session was provided to Stockport MBC and all respondents were sent a report summary.