Choices, choices: IDIs vs. focus groups

Image used with permission: Rawpixel.

Image used with permission: Rawpixel.

In-depth interviews, also known as IDIs, and focus groups – when should they be used? Understanding each methodology’s strengths and weaknesses will help you select the right technique.

In-depth interviews are useful when the researcher wants gather focused insights about a specific topic through conversations with individual respondents. Interviews can be done conducted by phone, video chat or in person. This format allows the skilled interviewer to probe for additional information, based on how each respondent answers higher-level questions. 

There are several advantages to in-depth interviews. The respondent often feels freer to express his or her opinions, without worrying about what others may think. Feedback is elicited from those who might be less vocal or less forthcoming in a group setting. Respondents will not be unduly influenced by the opinions of others, because conversations are conducted on a one-to-one basis. In-depth interviews also allow the respondent to personally interact with a test environment as part of the experience, either online or onsite. Respondents can be recruited from almost any geographic location. Furthermore, in-depth interviews are usually easier to schedule, more convenient for the respondent, and can be completed more quickly, at a lower cost.

A focus group is the right choice when the researcher wants to use the synergies of the group to brainstorm ideas or generate feedback. It is also useful when the client would like the respondent to interact with a physical product or storyboard that cannot easily be provided to respondents on an individual basis. Furthermore, the researcher will have more control over the environment in which the respondent interacts with the product. Focus groups can be conducted in a focus group facility, online, or in another group setting.

There are unique advantages to focus groups. The loosely structured format often leads the discussion in directions that the client and the focus group moderator did not anticipate prior to the meeting. Participants can react to and build on each other’s responses. Participant body language can be observed, and, when the group is held in a focus group facility, clients can watch the focus group in private, and introduce new questions on the fly through the moderator. In order to provide balance and reduce location bias, groups are usually conducted in multiple geographic areas. 

On the other hand, focus groups are more difficult to schedule, less convenient for the respondent, and take longer to execute. Some respondents, such as busy professionals, can be difficult to recruit for a focus group. Respondent reimbursements, food, travel and facility costs can make focus groups a more expensive option.

Selecting the right technique, be it in-depth interviews or focus groups, depends on the client’s business and research objectives.