Six points to consider when looking for a focus group moderator

22 Sep 2021
Female moderator leading an online focus group discussion

Good qualitative research is only as good as the insights gleaned from interview moderation, which is what makes hiring the right moderator so important. This post explains the kinds of things you should consider when hiring an interview or group moderator. Be sure to enquire if you'd like FieldworkHub to provide moderation, or full service management of your research study.

A market research moderator* is an individual who runs focus groups, in-depth interviews, online bulletin boards and other qualitative research (e.g. ethnographies). He or she is responsible for creating a smooth discussion, managing varying group dynamics, inspiring participants to engage in relevant topics of conversation, and ensuring that the client’s objectives are addressed through a meaningful exchange. Research moderation is a balancing act and requires a unique set of skills which not every researcher has in their toolbox.

What to look for in a moderator

Your moderator should...

  1. Be a people personthese words are overused, but in the case of research moderation, this trait is key. It is essential that your research moderator has a natural curiosity about people, can interact with them comfortably, and show them empathy throughout the course of the discussion.
  2. Be informed about the topic and know the audiencein order to run a discussion effectively and make the most of people’s time, it is important that your moderator has educated themselves appropriately on the research topic(s) being discussed. It’s also important they understand who will be participating, to take account of any nuances in language, culture, and general norms when leading a discussion on the topic. This ensures the conversation flows smoothly and maximises the opportunity to gather insights. Having a good grasp on the research discussion guide is an excellent place to start.
  3. Inspire additional topics of conversation while keeping client objectives at the forefront a key goal of your research moderator is to challenge concepts and introduce new ideas; they should also be able to recognise when to ask participants to expand further versus when additional thought seems frivolous or unnecessary. This is perhaps the best example of how moderation is a balancing act. The moderator needs to inspire further discussion while keeping the client objectives in mind and not steering too far off course.
  4. Ask the right questions, but be careful not to be too leading this is another prime example of how moderation is a balancing act – it is the moderator’s role to ask questions and probe participants to dig further where it feels relevant and necessary; however, this should be done in a way that feels organic and unbiased. Participants mustn’t feel as though they were led to express an opinion or conclusion as a result of suggestions made by the moderator.
  5. Show flexibility and adaptability as the interviews and discussions may not go as planned almost inevitably, the discussion does not go quite as planned. There are always unexpected elements, particularly with the dynamics of group discussions, not to mention random aspects related to practical matters like technology and schedules. It’s therefore essential your moderator has the ability to adapt to changes in schedule and direction without getting flustered.
  6. Be able to highlight relevant findings in a concise format for the clientas the person closest to the discussion held by participants and having a good understanding of the client’s objectives, research moderators hold a wealth of knowledge on relevant themes and findings. Your moderator must have the ability to summarise what they’ve heard, verbally or on paper, and highlight the most relevant topics and findings given the research objectives. Any thoughts about to how future research or discussions could be improved can also be very helpful.

FieldworkHub’s recent addition, Ariana, is one of our in-house moderators and insights researchers for full service work. With 10+ years working within the field, performing various roles within quantitative and qualitative research, Ariana brings a breadth of experience in writing, presentation, and analysis. While Ariana focuses mostly on research performed in the US and UK, FieldworkHub has a pool of other vetted moderators keen to take on work in other countries. We are always happy to discuss how we can satisfy your requirements

* It should be noted that the terms used to refer to the role of Moderator vary slightly from country to country: in the US, a ‘moderator’ is a qualitative market researchers whose role mostly involves conducting interviews and group discussions. In the UK, moderators are often referred to as ‘qualitative researchers’ and may perform a wider set of responsibilities including research design and analysis of findings.

FieldworkHub is an agile, knowledgeable market research fieldwork agency providing high-quality focus group recruitment as part of our full range of qualitative and quantitative fieldwork services.
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