Published 25 August 2020

Running Focus Groups during a Pandemic, by Henrietta (Hetty) Patterson

Having started the Digital Creativity Lab Summer School at York University at the height of lockdown, I have never met any members of my team in person!
As you can imagine, the transition to working online was a challenge at first, mainly as I was learning how to use Qualtrics for the first time; however my supervisor, and the rest of the team at the Digital Creativity Lab have been incredibly helpful and exceptionally well organised throughout this trying time.
Personally, I have found the department’s weekly online summary meeting to be an effective way of getting to know the team, and to understanding our motivation as a group within York University.
It is fantastic to have a regular check in, and to learn a little bit about each other’s roles, so I know who to approach for help with tasks ranging from using programmes such as Qualtrics, to advertising our survey and focus groups. The Digital Creativity Lab’s use of instant messaging services has made it quick and easy to collaborate on projects.
I think at present, it’s really important to keep an open line of communication with those on our team, so we can help each other as required, and foster a sense of community, although we may be separated by distance. When designing our survey for the Summer School project ‘The Final Hurdle’, we held regular meetings to confirm we were following the right track, and utilised members of the team as pilot testers, both offering a chance to get to know team members, and to receive feedback valuable to improving the project.
Again, with regards to running focus groups, I have found it highly important to maintain an open line of communication with participants, as with so many people working from home, a couple struggled with internet issues, or unexpected circumstances, and had to make last minute changes.
Being flexible, understanding, and communicative enables us to create a great relationship with our participants, encouraging them to get involved with more projects at York University in the future. Furthermore, I found it important to keep focus groups small, as it aided the conversation flow if all participants were able to fit on one video conferencing screen, so no-one accidentally got left out.
It is also important to design focus group questions which can stand alone, so should a participant’s internet unexpectedly drop out, they can return later in the session and answer any remaining questions at the end, without holding up the other participants. It also helps to have two members of staff taking minutes, as backup – these minutes can then be collated after the session.