Use Focus Groups for Social Goods

Government isn’t business, but we all wish the public sector did a better job at designing, pricing, and delivering the social goods we rely on and expect. Maybe we should have citizen focus groups to give feedback on our social goods.

This could improve how responsive government is. Currently, the only effective feedback citizens can supply is voting in elections. A bunch of us don’t bother.

Involve Citizens in Social Goods Design

Since social goods deliver human rights, we should do a kick-ass job in designing, distributing, pricing, and promoting our social goods. That would make life better for everyone, yes?

When the private sector wants to make kick-ass products and services, part of what they (should) do is involve the customers in the creation of the product. This takes the form of market research, surveys, focus groups, test markets, and other activities.

This is a place where the social sector could learn from the private sector. The social sector’s idea of input is often a series of public meetings and a comment period. That’s great for gathering initial input. But what about testing prototypes? What about gathering user feedback? What about discerning differences between demographics or regions or pricing models or packaging?

Spotlight on Focus Groups

Have you ever been part of a focus group? If so, you know that they are different from other market research activities likes polls and surveys, test markets, user interviews,

Here are defining characteristics of a focus group, according to some great community outreach materials from the University of Kansas:

  • The group has a specific, focused discussion topic.
  • The group has a trained leader or facilitator.
  • The group’s composition and the group discussion are carefully planned.

The goal is to generate qualitative data from a specific demographic regarding a specific question.

I remember being part of a group once for a company that ran camera stores. The company owned stores under two different brand names in the same market. They wanted to know if there was any benefit to merging the two brands into one.

The group I was in contained men, mostly white, probably ages 30-45. None of us were professional photographers. We all knew the stores being discussed. We didn’t realize that they were owned by the same company. Throughout the discussion, we failed to find a reason that was compelling to us consumers to merge the two brands.

Focus Groups for Social Goods

I envision focus groups for social goods. In my mind, these would function like jury duty. I hope it would be more interesting or pleasant.

You and I would get called every couple years to be in the pool for possible focus groups. Public sector employees who create programs, goods, and services would have access to citizens to ask them about the design, distribution, promotion, and pricing of the things that our taxes and fee payments support.

Focus groups for social goods would need expanded demographics compared to juries. For instance, to discuss childcare subsidies in a particular county you’d want to have a group of eight single parents who reside in that county. This is different than finding 12 peers to serve on a jury, where you will get and may want a diversity of backgrounds and demographics.

I like to think that people would gladly serve on a citizen focus group when the discussion topic was relative to them. They might be more motivated if they could substitute this for jury duty.

As a public or social sector marketer or activist, have you ever conducted a focus group? If so, I’m dying to hear your experience. Post a comment below or send me an email.

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