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I am planning to conduct a Focus group for car navigation devices in coming weeks.

Initially, I was recruiting mixed gender participants in each session.

I am slightly worried that;

  • Males might be more dominant in the conversation as they have more knowledge about the car navigational systems and in general they are more tech savvy.

  • Females might not be able to express themselves in front of male participants.

I think that I should have separate sessions for males and females to get most out of the study.

What are the negatives & positives for mixed and single sex, groups?

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2 Answers 2

In homogenous focus groups it can be easier to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable and free to speak out, without having to defend their points of view against others. The main focus is on shared experiences, which is why this type of group is more popular if you are trying to get results that are representative for your users.

In a heterogenous focus group the conversation can more easily turn into a debate by the most dominant people in the group (depending on the skills of the moderator). You may hear a wider range of positions and find more diversity in the answers to your questions. This can be a good thing, if for example you are trying to get an extensive list of all possible uses for a product.

Homogenous groups work better for convergent thinking, heterogenous might be preferable for divergence. For a car navigation device, I'd go for separate gender groups, not only because men might dominate the conversation (you could be underestimating the women here :) ), but mainly because it is known that men approach navigation tasks differently than women, which will affect their experiences with a navigation device.

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What is the topic for the focus group? There are several scenarios where mixed gender groups would probably not be a good idea:

  • If the topic is uncomfortable to discuss in the presence of the opposite gender
  • If the topic is likely to cause debate between genders (sometimes divergent thinking is good, but usually debate is counter-productive and tangential)
  • The target audience is very young (say, 16 or younger)
  • Mixed gender would be taboo for the culture you are targeting

Your discussions will be dominated by certain people no matter what, so I wouldn't worry about that too much. You'll always need to actively moderate, ask "let's hear from someone else," or even ask a specific person for their thoughts on a subject if you feel they are being stifled. And if you are halfway through the session but someone has only said two words, don't hesitate to specifically ask them if they have an opinion on one of the questions/topics.

A mixed gender focus group isn't always the right thing to do, but it does have the following advantages:

  • It may spark conversation that otherwise would not be brought up. Males and females think differently, so the conversation will have a completely different dynamic. You may even find that something is important to one gender, even though they would not have thought to bring it up themselves.
  • Opportunity to gather different, but complimentary insights
  • If groups include multiple genders, that means more of your focus groups are available for participants to sign up. More flexible session times usually means more participants can sign up. Allowing someone to sign up at 12PM, 4PM, 6PM and 8PM is much better than only allowing the options of 4PM and 8PM. It also would not preclude spouses/family from coming together which is obviously convenient.

This book also has some interesting information on the subject: http://books.google.com/books?id=Rb9KlLtpGe8C&pg=PA28&lpg=PA28&dq=advantages+of+mixed+gender+focus+groups&source=bl&ots=m0YOsksWvT&sig=o_ZGUkwzssPLAjPNk_9bof81LRY&hl=en&ei=RMy2TdbDIoWCtge80ZyUAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false

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