Monthly Archives: May 2012

Follow the RIVA office blog:

Follow our office blog for information on office happenings and classes being offered!!



Lesson # 1: Trust your own judgment

I wish there was one book, one resource, one website that could answer my questions about research design, moderator guide development, recruiting, which interventions or projective techniques to use. I wish there was one place I could go to look for how to analyze subjective data in an objective way. I wish I knew what to say to a client who is making requests that he/she cannot see are unreasonable and impossible to meet in a qualitative environment. But no such resource bank exists. I have had to learn to trust my own judgment – to do what I think is best, usually right in the moment. Sure,   sometimes I call a colleague to check out some things. Sometimes I look on the Web for information, or scour my old files for how I solved a similar problem in the past.

I have learned that to trust my own judgment, I have to ask myself questions since ultimately my answers will provide a path on which I can walk.  Here are some of the questions I ask myself as I move through a project:

  • What is the study purpose?
  • Is there more than one purpose?
  • Which client [or back room team if more than one] should I give most of my attention?
  • What can be done in the time allowed and what cannot?
  • Am I the right match for this project?
  • Is my skill set up to par – am I fresh or rusty – am I excited or burned out?
  • Will this technique, tool, method, or approach help me reach the study purpose?
  • What is the client expecting?
  • What do they not want?
  • What are they going to do with the data when I am done collecting it?
  • Is there one big answer being sought or a lot of smaller answers needed for strategic decision-making?
  • What can go wrong – and how can I be proactive, so more goes right?
  • Is this project traditional or one that will require creative approaches?

Over the years, I have encountered the same problems more than once. I have had to create some solutions. I had no one to ask…I looked to see what would be best for all parties – and I trusted myself – stepped off into the unknown on faith and just kept walking.



Client has 14 concepts to test – not willing to give any up…wants respondents to see all 14  – to do it right will take 3 hours.

All we have is two hours and really that nets down to 100 minutes of actual research time because of the need to manage group dynamics.

  1.  Remind client that after six of anything shown to a group, they are in sensory overload and cannot see nuances
  2. If “1” does not work – ask if the concepts can be grouped into 4 families of 3-4 concepts and the family is evaluated
  3. If “2” does not work – ask if you can test a core set of six and rotate in a different 7th one across the series so all 14 see the light of day
  4. If “3” does not work – tell client you will have them grade / score each of the 14, on a worksheet, pick top two and only discuss those in detail in each group
 Client has enough Qs for a 120 minute group but only wants to spend 90 minutes with each group so that three groups can be done in a day
  • Figure out which questions are priority and make sure they are asked in the allotted 90 minutes. Have a section of the guide entitled: “If Time Allows” and work in at least 2 Qs from this section. Do not even try to get any more than two answered in any one group. If 4-6 groups in the series – vary the “ITA” Qs across the groups
Should I eject this respondent or keep them?
  • This is always an “in the moment” decision. My rules about ejection: If the respondent will torpedo the session – they will have to go; if I can manage them so they do not torpedo the session, they stay.

I promise to write more on this topic in a later blog!

What happens if the study purpose changes while in the field?
  • This makes trend analysis difficult for sure! But I have learned that goals get clearer as you move toward them. So if a client changes the purpose while in the field – go with the flow. Write a new purpose; write a new guide, write new questions; and document it all under Lesson #2: “Put everything in writing.” Make sure the report discusses the reasons for the purpose change and what was discovered pre / post purpose change.


One of the nice things about getting older is knowing that wisdom comes from experience.   When I led my first groups in the late 1970’s, my knowledge came from sociology and psychology books as well as from watching more experienced moderators.  I made a lot of mistakes, which taught me well.  A New Age guru said in the 1980’s, “Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t and that equals success.” 

I am living proof that he was right! Here are six lessons on what I have learned after leading 6,000 focus groups – roughly one lesson every 1,000 groups is how it has averaged out.

Lesson 1:       Trust your own judgment

Lesson 2:       Put everything in writing

Lesson 3:       No one remembers the last group you led – you are only as good as your next group

Lesson 4:       Maintain research rigor not research rigidity

Lesson 5:       Laugh early – it will all be funny later

Lesson 6:       Learn to expect and embrace change

Follow Rivas Blog

Take a look and follow the office blog to stay in the loop on things going on here at RIVA: