Qualitative research & evaluation methods:

Focus groups

A cornerstone of qualitative research is bringing a small group of audience members together and getting them talking.

For understanding perceptions, identifying benefits and barriers, and exploring desires, nothing beats group discussions. These lively, unpredictable conversations reveal what surveys don’t: the emotional, subjective side of your audience’s perceptions, motivations, values, and actions. They shed light on how people think—and feel—about your organization and the cultural or educational category you represent.

Focus groups can be a smart way to begin a broad, strategic research effort, since they allow audiences to tell us what the relevant issues are. They’re also great for soliciting responses to your programming concepts, marketing messages or communications materials, and institutional plans.

Methodological rigor is just as important in qualitative research as it is in survey design and analysis. Our focus group participants are recruited using sophisticated “screeners” to ensure that the people in the room truly represent the audience segment we’ve defined. The discussions are moderated by experienced researchers who know how to minimize responses biases, read non-verbal information, and pursue promising lines of inquiry as they crop up.

Most importantly, our focus groups are analyzed as thoroughly as our survey data, with in-depth reports that illuminate key ideas while preserving nuance and differences between groups.

Best of all, you and your colleagues get to sit in the next room and observe the focus groups live. (Pay no attention to that man behind the mirror!)

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March 14, 2014 | Nicole Baltazar

Multiculturalism is key for creating inclusive arts experiences


Last month, Coca-Cola aired its now-famous Super Bowl ad depicting people from various racial, ethnic, and cultural groups singing “America the Beautiful” together in different languages. Among the instant outpouring of polarized reactions to this ad rang much praise for its depiction of a multicultural America. Yet the ad provoked a slew of negative responses as well. Many of the ad’s detractors questioned whether this multicultural America could ever feel as cohesive as an America whose citizens speak a common language, and therefore have taken great strides toward assimilating into a common culture.

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In Practice...

We’ve conducted focus groups with...

  • symphony subscribers and single ticket buyers
  • business school applicants, students, and alumni
  • Latino, Asian, and African American contemporary dance attenders
  • public radio listeners and members
  • university alumni donors and nondonors
  • art museum visitors and members
  • lapsed and current theater subscribers
  • community leaders
  • young cosmopolitans

...and many other cultural and educational audiences.