Research Handbooks in Business and Management series
Edited by Helle Neergaard and Claire Leitch
Chapter 10: Conducting a traditional focus group
Much of the empirical research on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) has relied heavily on cross-sectional survey methodologies (mail and/or telephone). However, as closed-ended questions effectively require appropriate pre-knowledge of the area under study they are less likely (compared to more qualitative, open-ended questions) to present an exhaustive picture of a relatively unknown area of interest. Worse still, asking closed-ended questions may simply result in confirming the researcher’s expectations without the researcher knowing that important detail is being missed. One way to generate broader qualitative data is through face-to-face interviews. However, Blackburn and Stokes (2000) argue that this method may suffer from the same inherent flaw as surveys, in that business owners may try to give an ‘expected’ answer rather than an accurate picture of themselves or their business. Blackburn and Stokes (2000) suggest that such difficulties can potentially be overcome through the use of a focus group approach because participants may feel more comfortable about sharing their feelings and experiences within a group of peers. The psychological security derived from group membership may be particularly relevant to researching owner-managers as it is likely that such individuals will be more open about their views when interacting with other owner-managers rather than in a one-on-one interview with a researcher (particularly if there is a perceived ‘culture gap’).
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