Professional groupies


Today, a friend and colleague was out on the field all day doing qualitative depth interviews. She met a respondent who had been attending groups everyday for the last three days.

So much for strict and disguised recruitment criteria.

Dina had written long ago about the problem of what we call ‘professional respondents’. Which is not to say that they attend groups as a profession. But that as respondents, they are far more professional than their first-time sisters in the same group.

Given all the real concerns about professional respondents, it is yet time to accept that they are a reality (Dina has a good analysis on this) and cannot be just wished away. There are product categories and research centres which have been over-researched and have crossed saturation point. (I sometimes feel I cannot ever walk on the streets in Madurai, a large city in South India, without feeling that I know each and every woman who passes me by – I must have seen her in one group or the other!)

In which case, can we just accept them and work around the problem? Using them to our advantage as researchers?

Before the indignant jump… read Lies, Damned Lies and Focus Groups by Daniel Gross. Here, Gross analyses the reasons focus groups are losing their value as a quick and valid research tool. Primary among them being the fact that there is just no time in such a setting for participants (who are ideally strangers to each other) to get comfortable with the group and the moderator. Getting paid to get together with a bunch of strangers, and being led in a discussion by another stranger, is unnatural

In which case, can a participant who has ‘been there done that’ help put the rest at ease? Considering the fact that in India, they are not even there for the money (paying participants in cash is a no-no in India – they usually get a small gift in return), but just for the feeling of importance it gives them – to be heard. My feeling is that an experienced moderator should be able to guide the discussion and keep the ‘maestro’ from hijacking / intimidating the group.


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