The Focus Group Report:
What is the Moderator's Responsibility?
by Thomas L Greenbaum
|Virtually every focus group project concludes with a report from the
moderator which provides an interpretation of what he or she felt happened during the
groups and how those events relate to the project's objectives. The format of the final
report differs dramatically based on the needs of the client and the style of the
moderator. Some people prefer a simple written top-line, others an oral debriefing, others
a stand-up presentation and some a formal written document that can range from 20-60 pages
and which may include verbatims from the participants.|
Most organizations consider the moderator report to be the most important part of the process since it provides a summary of what occurred and the relevant conclusions and recommendations. Others consider the report to be very anticlimactic, since they attended the group and the report simply serves as a record of the proceedings for future reference.
One of the key issues facing moderators today is the nature of the report. Should it represent their views or those of the people who have retained them to conduct the groups? For example, it's not unusual for a client representative to read a moderator report and indicate they want some of the information changed because they did not agree with the findings, conclusions or recommendations. Some moderators have been asked to change their conclusions and recommendations because they aren't politically appropriate within the client organization, or will make some people disappointed with the outputs. The key question is whether the moderator should change the report to please the client, or insist that it remain intact.
This article argues for the integrity of the moderator report and suggests an approach that should be acceptable to both moderator and client.
Keep the report intact
I feel very strongly that a moderator report should not be changed in any way by the client except to correct typographical errors or misstatements of fact. My reasons:
An appropriate compromise
Focus groups never produce one absolutely correct answer. There should always be room for healthy disagreement. However, in view of the moderator's responsibility to be objective and their ownership of the report, it is best not to address these differences by making changes in the summary document. We believe the client and the moderator should agree at the beginning of the project that differences of opinion will be handled by a cover note that will be attached to the moderator report. This dissenting argument should be brief, and should identify only those points where the client and the moderator disagree on the interpretation of the findings from the groups. This will enable the moderator to retain his or her objectivity, integrity and legal/ethical responsibilities, while permitting client personnel with dissenting views to express them to management and to retain them for the record.
Thomas L. Greenbaum is president of Groups Plus
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