The 'unfocused' group discussion technique
Qualitative research in Australia developed rapidly in the 1960s in response to a growing frustration with conventional survey research methods for investigating attitudes and a revolutionary spirit in the public opinion research industry that encouraged innovation. Faced with the realisation that some of the most significant attitudes and motivations are neither 'rational' nor 'objective', it became clear that such phenomena might be more appropriately investigated by non-rational, non-linear research methods. The unstructured, non-directive, in-home, affinity-group discussion emerged as one of the most fruitful of such methods. The method is designed to be as naturalistic as possible: existing social groups, meeting in their 'natural habitat', engaging in freeflowing, spontaneous conversation about the topic.
The method eschews prepared 'topic outlines' and active moderation. Part of the philosophical justification for the method is that it attempts to minimise the 'experiment effect' by avoiding many of the design flaws inherent in conventional 'focus groups'. It also permits direct observation of the phenomenon of 'opinion leadership' within natural social groups.
The paper concludes with a brief description of the conduct of an 'unfocused' group discussion, including practical tips on analysis and interpretation of qualitative data.