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I was told by a friend that when conducting focus groups to gather information for needfinding for a design, I should avoid grouping different stakeholders together into a single group.

This got me thinking because I always thought it is actually a good thing to put people of different stakeholder groups together into a focus group, and this could provide me with more valuable result from the needfinding.

What are the implications for putting different stakeholders into a single group when conducting focus group interviews? What is the benefit for including only people of same stakeholder group in a focus group interview?

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It depends on whether the various stakeholders have contrary interests (e.g. environmentalists and fracking companies), and on whether there would be a likely overlap between their areas of interest.

Having a broader more diverse group will generally give more insightful results, but is also harder to manage in terms of conflict and even representation.

If you feel that you will be able to manage a group with diverse stakeholders, I would recommend that is what you do. If not, consider making two groups with the conflicting interests separate.

In the end the choice depends on the situation.

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There are several implications for putting different stakeholders in one group, most of the time there is a hierarchy, so you will end up with one/two stakeholders running the meeting and presenting their point of view. Putting them in different groups will allow a better conversation with each of them. This way you will be able to find out what all of them want out of the project not only the one stakeholders agenda.

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As @JohnGB notes, it depends.

A 2011 UXMatters article "Do’s and Don’ts for Focus Groups" has a paragraph entitled "Don’t Recruit Participants Who Are Too Similar or Too Different", which reinforces @JohnGB's advice.

The article also states that:

...it’s important to ensure that participants aren’t too similar for you to acquire a variety of perspectives and foster discussion.

At the 2012 UPA/UXPA Conference in Las Vegas a panel session entitled "We Do Focus Groups Too" had an audience question that mirrored this question. The panel of experienced focus group moderators suggested using one focus group per persona. This would allow you to uncover very deep insights.

I don't know about you, but my research budgets could not handle that! Instead, I would have one user profile (which may include a variety of personas) in each focus group with at least 3 focus groups per user profile. If you use user profiles, then it is more likely that your participants will be similar enough to have a useful conversation while different enough to get a variety of thoughts.

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Very informative! Thanks! +1! :) –  xenon Nov 29 '12 at 2:51
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