Focus groups would also permit the interviewing of girls without their parents. This is especially important for this research because the child’s responses would be deeply affected by their perceptions of what their parents wanted them to say. These focus groups would require the researcher to gain the cooperation of both the girls and their parents. Firstly, gaining the permission of the respondents’ guardians may be difficult. Often this problem is solved by contacting schools for assistance but this is likely to be rejected due to the purpose of the study.
Schools may consider the research to have little benefit to them and therefore refuse cooperation, even if a large incentive were offered. It may therefore be easier and more convenient to recruit participants when their parents are present. Face-to-face recruiting will be used and will enable the parents to build up trust with the researcher and verify their authenticity, increasing the likelihood of them allowing their child to participate. There would also be incentives for the parents; the play area that would be set up at Bluewater would allow them to shop without their children for a few hours.
Bluewater would also be a good location because excursions to these types of shopping centre tend to be of a longer duration than trips into town centres, therefore allowing the time necessary for the focus group to be conducted. Researchers would also have to consider how they would persuade the girls to participate. The promotion stand and play area would be eye-catching.
The girls would see their peers having fun and would want to join in, especially if they are bored of shopping. Incentives such as free samples of products, games and competitions (e. g.to win tickets to a pop concert for Blue for the best makeover given to a doll ‘model’) would also be used. The promotional area would have the added benefit of get any possible respondents into the right frame of mind. They would be relaxed as they would be playing (an even using makeup) and would build rapport with the interviewers who could maybe join in with the games. The location of the promotional area would also be important. To ensure the best range of possible respondents, it would require a high frequency of girls of the suitable ages to pass.
This could be for example near to some of the main shops for this age range, for example near Tammy Girl or McDonalds. The focus groups would be split up into different age ranges (school years). This is necessary as the difference in maturity between 7 and 12 year olds can be enormous. The girls at the higher end of the age bracket may have completely different attitudes towards make up as younger children. For example, one might expect a 12 year old to see make up as being grown up and wear make up to parties. A 7 year old may use it when playing “dressing up”.
The older children could also dominate the focus groups and be seen as “experts” by the younger children. Breaking the focus groups up into school year groups would maintain some diversity to ensure lively discussion, but keep enough homogeneity to ensure their stability. It would also allow the comparison of the results of groups of different ages. Other divisions may be required, for example socio-economic differentiation will also be required as the girls’ parents’ socio-economic background may affect their attitude to their child wearing makeup (and hence affect consumption).
A useful variation on the focus group when working with children is friendship focus groups. This scenario makes the children feel more comfortable as they are amongst friends. However, due to the fact that we would recruit in a shopping centre, the girls would probably be on their own with their parents so this technique would be unfeasible in this scenario. Alternative logistics could be set up to accommodate friendship groups (for example an invitation to attend a focus group at a different time) but response rates would probably be low due to the limited interest of the girls in the subject.
Although the girls may feel intimidated talking in front of other girls they don’t know, a focus group of a relatively long duration would allow the children to make friends as the session progressed, reducing any initial shyness. In addition, by using strangers, the girls are less likely to copy the opinion of their friend and lie, therefore enhancing the honesty and validity of responses of the children. In addition, everyone would have equal opportunity to speak – not just the dominant girls in the friendship group.
The physical setting of the focus group is of vital importance to ensure the validity of the research. The respondents need to feel relaxed, comfortable and in the right frame of mind to discuss the topic concerned. For this research, it is thought appropriate to hold the focus group in mock make up studio: a place children would associate with wearing makeup, hence creating the right frame of mind. They would also feel relaxed and calm in an enclosed, private, and “girls only” area.
This would increase the fullness and honesty of responses because the girls would concentrate on the task in hand (a very important consideration with children who can be distracted very easily). The interviewer, as mentioned earlier, would have a crucial role to play in the success of the focus groups. They would need to have experience of conducting focus groups involving children, particularly girls-only focus groups. Ideally, they would be a young, trendy woman, able to build rapport with the respondents and be seen as an equal.
They would also need to be alert to the needs of all the participants. Some children may need encouragement to participate whereas others may need calming down. As the research is to be qualitative with a number of focus groups and is to be used for exploratory research rather than descriptive research, the representatively of the respondents chosen is not really a fundamental issue, as long as the decision makers are made aware of this limitation.
Focus groups should be set up to ensure a broad coverage of all the age range, but we feel that respondents could be recruited according to convenience. Above, we have discussed some of the implications of using focus groups for this research brief. However, this is by no means exclusive. When the technique is actually put to the test, other unforeseen problems may arise. This could be solved by conducting a mini pilot focus group, perhaps using children that the interviewer or researcher knows personally to gain feedback before the real study is undertaken.