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Focus group, workshop and discussion groups. Are they the same? What are the differences?

4 October, 2018

Qualitative Research techniques

In the field of research and user experience, we tend to use and confuse terms according to the discourse that is being used at any given moment. However, we must be careful when using the specific terminology as we can generate confusion both in the team and the client.

Being very assertive I must say that a focus group, a workshop or a discussion group is not the same, #asitis. The objective that I pursue in this post is to contribute my bit to the fact of clarifying how these techniques that are part of qualitative research differ. Will not go into depth on how can we successfully carry out each one of them since we will tell it in following posts, but we will make clear what it is, what results are obtained and if they have any special characteristics.

Focus Group

It is a qualitative research method that is used to collect information and feedback reception by generating a discussion around a product, service, idea, etc. It is always done with real users and its main objective is not obtaining a consensual conclusion, but rather ideas to work on.

In the focus groups, a large amount of information is obtained about motivations of use, user behavior, ideas, opinions, emotions, attitudes both of their actual and potential behavior, so it is important to carry out a thorough review of the extracted data and a reflection on the conclusions obtained, therefore the recording of the audio and video of the sessions is necessary.

For a focus group to be productive it must be moderated, between 6 and 12 users will participate, its duration will vary between one and two hours and it must be taken into account that the results obtained are not generalizable since the sample of users participating is small.

There are different ways of conducting focus group among which stand out:

  • Two-way sessions in which the group discusses from the observation of the dynamics performed by another group
  • Sessions with dual moderator:  in these there are two moderators with different missions; one has the mission of smooth the development of the session and the other the full development of the session
  • Sessions with faced moderators, in this case, the moderators will give rise to two completely different points of view of the same subject to generate the debate among the participants
  • Sessions with moderating participants where a participant will temporarily act as moderator
  • Sessions with client integration: in this case transparently or not, there will be one or more participants of the client to provide their point of view in the session
  • Online sessions in this case the exchange of opinions will be done online
  • Sessions by videoconference: in this case will establish remote connection of audio and video between the members to carry out the session
  • Mini sessions where only a maximum of 5 participants will attend


técnicas de investigación cualitativa


The workshops are part of qualitative research and in its best known expression is the equivalent of training workshops or small training courses, although there is also an intensive work workshop with the client. Regardless of the typology of the workshop, its objective is always to reach conclusions. The participation of the users or the client is totally active.

The training workshops are based on a theoretical knowledge with an exhibition by one or several experts, after which the individual and group work of the attendees begins, since the objective pursued in which the assistants bring theoretical knowledge to practice , interact and work as a team arriving at unique conclusions; they conclude with the presentation of the conclusions to which the assistants have arrived.

In the work workshop with the client, we start with the relevant findings or generate the interaction of the work team with the client so that the latter collaborates in the exchange of specific information of their business and it has to reach unique conclusions that They contribute the points of evolution on the ideas that have been worked on together, thus generating greater teamwork and both the client and the team of experts feel that they are part of an environment of communication, dialogue and joint work on the project, a single team.

The number of attendees to the workshops is variable and it is recommended that it be between 6 and 15 people so that the expert can provide the attention that each of them requires, its duration can be from 4 hours to 2 days depending on the thematic or work process.

técnicas de investigación cualitativa

Discussion Groups

This technique consists of generating debate among a small number of participants with similar characteristics on a topic suggested by the moderator, so that social attitudes and influences that may have an impact on the behavioral behavior of users can be evaluated. They seek to solve a problem, make a homogeneous decision or acquire reciprocal information.

When dealing with qualitative research, the result obtained with the discussion groups is the obtaining of a unique group discourse (the attendees have to agree) as a result of the discussion of the topic suggested by the moderator, anecdotes, information about patterns of behavior and attitudinal.

To guarantee the success of a discussion group, we will always start from more general to more specific topics, always being started by the moderator; 8 to 10 people will participate democratically, actively and face to face and its approximate duration will be two hours.

As a summary we could say that:

  • The focus groups consist of carrying out a collection of information of the real users, for once analyzed and organized to be able to generate ideas on which to work strategies, hypotheses or possible paths.
  • The workshops can be of two types: the formative ones that are based on offering a theoretical formation with practical application in which the result is the exhibition of the practical work carried out by the assistants and those that are sessions of work with the client in which It works jointly on hypotheses raised extracting unique conclusions on the paths that best fit with the business and its possible evolution.
  • The discussion groups consist in carrying out a debate between users with the same characteristics on a specific topic, treating it from general points to specific points, its result is a single and consensual group discourse.

These are the keys to differentiate and correctly use these three concepts linked to research, training and project development, depending on the needs you have you can use one or the other. I hope it helps you.

PMO & Research Director


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