My first online focus group on MRQual

Interview with new online qualitative researcher

We’re interviewing Alex Davies, the newest (and youngest) member of the MRQual team. She recently did her very first MRQual project so we thought we’d have a chat with her to see how she got on, how she found using the software and talking to complete strangers.

Overall, how did you find the experience?

Nerve-wracking! But, once I got over my nerves and people started to respond to me, I started to enjoy myself, something I hadn’t expected. Also I was a bit worried about using the software whilst a group was going on in case I made a mistake; I shouldn’t have worried though as it’s quite hard to break!

What did you enjoy the most?

I enjoyed the moderation the best, talking to people is something that comes quite naturally to me and I was genuinely interested in what people had to say. I was surprised at how much people wrote and how open and honest they were. One lady nearly had me in tears! I got some pointers from the rest of the team about how to encourage people to participate and how to encourage interaction between the people, and those techniques really worked.

What did you enjoy least?

The analysis of the bulletin board was for me the hardest part – partly because there was so much transcript! It was made easy because it loads automatically and you can export it to word or excel but there were reams and reams. I had to get some help with analysing and pulling out themes as I wasn’t sure how to do this. The filtering and tagging options in MrQual did really help.

How did you start?

Using my discussion guide as, well, a guide, I set up my questions. I tried to make them as interesting as possible and make sure there were a variety of styles and mini-tasks for the respondents to do. I found inputting the questions was quite quick because I had taken time to thoroughly prepare a discussion guide so I knew what I wanted to ask. Then I invited the people that had already said they would take part. I was surprised that so many people wanted to take part. We had recruited 22 thinking we’d get 20 but all 22 people registered. I am sure this is not the norm or certainly the case for all projects but I think people are genuinely interested in taking part. These were all personally recruited so I think that helps.

Can you describe your first experience of moderating an online bulletin board?

Nervous start, I wasn’t sure how much to talk to the participants. Was I being annoying or reassuring? I tried to follow my instincts. I set my questions live and held my breath…for a very long time because nothing happened to start with. Disappointing – I had thought my participants were like me, chomping at the bit for the start time but it appears they had other more pressing things to be getting on with. After 2 hours I looked at the screen with not so much as a flash of “online” but finally someone logged on, quickly followed by another and then another! And by the evening everyone was online and freely commenting!

I wasn’t sure of getting people talk to each other but found that they were happy once know its ok but need to be reassured along the way. I also learnt that some questions people want to dwell on because they are more fun. I simply stated “and what does everyone else feel about this” or “who agrees with x participant” and that got the conversation going.

I made sure I had my original discussion guide with me so I knew what to probe and look for in answers, otherwise I think I would have got completely lost in the conversation and lost track of what I was supposed to be finding out about! I’m sure an experienced moderator wouldn’t have this problem but this was my first go.

I was also lucky because I had a colleague who is an experienced moderator logged in as well so she could keep an eye on how I was getting on.

It became obvious that people talked more when I was online or when there were a lot of other participants online so they didn’t feel like they were answering a survey but they genuinely wanted to take part in a discussion.

What did you learn about managing the participants?

We only received one phone call about not being able to log on (and that was down to forgetting password) and from then on they were a dream. I’m pretty sure that’s not always the case but we didn’t have any issues and everyone logged on when they were supposed to. In my training we were told to send a friendly email reminder each morning the bulletin board was open. This definitely helped to encourage and remind people.

What do you feel you learnt the most about?

I learnt that actually taking the plunge and doing it for yourself is less scary than I had anticipated. I really enjoyed the process and I know the participants did too – I had lots of them email me at the end to tell me so.

Is there anything you would do differently next time?

I would make the instructions at the start a bit clearer so everyone knows exactly what is expected, how much they should interact, whether it’s ok to comment on other people’s posts etc. I would also ask fewer questions. I think I was a bit too ambitious with how much we could cover. That said and done, I had some fantastic feedback: “the experience was great and I would do it again” (mum, 30’s, 3 kids) “I quite enjoyed it as was stuck at home resting! Website was easy to use” (mum 20’s, 1 child) “It was a pleasure! Good fun actually and really easy site to navigate around and questions were all clear” (mum, 30’s, 3 kids)

If you have any questions or would like to trial MrQual please contact us.