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  • 00:10

    CAROL NICHOLLS: I'm Carol McNaughton Nicholls.I'm a qualitative research expert.I've been working in the research industry for 15 years.I now work at Truth, which is a commercial strategic agency.We do global research, insight, design work, and my specialis qualitative research, but we also do mixed method studies.Focus groups are a form of qualitative research, where

  • 00:34

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: the researcher's generating the datathrough a directed discussion.It's a very open discussion, but a directed discussionwith a group of participants.A one to one interview can be a really valuable wayof understanding individual experiences and accounts.But sometimes, you want to exploreissues that are quite abstract.And as an individual, people won't

  • 00:56

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: have a strong opinion on or a lot of experienceof very conceptual.It might be about public attitudes, for example.A project that we are currently looking at here at Truthwas research into the appropriate terminologyto use when communicating delays on the railwaynetwork that have been caused by suicide.Now, the reason why that's important

  • 01:16

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: is because we know through studies of suicide preventionthat actually, people knowing where suicides occurand the way in which they occur can actuallyincrease that type of behavior.So it's called imitative behavior.In terms of preventing suicide, therefore,we want to make sure when we communicate delays thathave been caused by suicide, it isn't immediatelyobvious to the public or to any other passengers or people who

  • 01:39

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: may themselves be vulnerable that it's actuallya suicide that has occurred at that location.At the same time, passengers reallywant to know why delays are caused.They want to have transparency from the railway industry.The existing language that is usedis a person hit by a train.And we wanted to know if that was appropriate,

  • 01:60

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: if passengers actually do associative that with suicideand explore with passengers alternative options,alternative suggestions they would havefor appropriate terminology.And ultimately as I say, the rationalewas to help prevent suicides in the future.So it's really important that we get it right.We're just about starting the focus groups now.We have some people here in the room, waiting to start.

  • 02:21

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: We've got a smaller group today.We had one person who couldn't make it,so we've got five people.They're all younger people, but a good mix of male and female.So we're going to ask about their opinionon the announcements that we should make when communicatingsuicides on the railway.This is one of the final groups that we'll be doing,so we just want to make sure we'vegot the opinions of all the different types of peoplewe want to speak to so it enables us to capture

  • 02:42

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: the view of younger people who don't travelall the time on the railway.So we'll be going through all the same exerciseswe have with all the groups.We just need to make sure we've captured everyone's views.So what we want to get out of todayis covering all of the same material,knowing what they really think is an appropriate announcementat the end of the day, and makingsure we've got the point of view of all the different typesparticipants that we want to include.So you want to make sure that your participants are

  • 03:03

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: as comfortable as possible, because that way, they'llfeel more comfortable.They'll trust you, and they're more likely to open upboth to you and to each other.The first stage is the introduction.That sounds really obvious, but Ican't say how important the introduction is.The moderator's introduction is whenyou are able to build trust in the group,introduce to them really why they're

  • 03:24

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: there, what it is you need from them,and the nature of the focus group.Some people never have been in a focus group before,so they don't really know what you're going to ask of them.They might think that it's a bit of a test,or there's particular right or wrong answers,and it's important to set some ground rules.So in the introduction today, you'llsee that it's really important to talk through

  • 03:45

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: with participants the rules of engagement,the process that you're going to undertake and help themjust feel comfortable, and they knowthey can map out the root of the discussion.Thank you all for coming this afternoon.It's great that you've taken the time to come and help uswith this research.I just want to spend a little bit of time goingover the discussion and the process

  • 04:05

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: that we're going to do for the next hour and a halfwith you just so you're really clear on that, as well.I'm Carol, as I said, and I'm from a research entity calledTruth.We're doing this research for Network Rail and PassengerFocus.And they think about the interestsof passengers on the railway.And as you know, when we asked youto come to join the discussion, we're

  • 04:26

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: going to ask you a bit about your railwayjourneys, your opinion on different kindsof announcements.I just want to say, there's no right or wrong answers.You can say whatever you like and have different opinions.That's great, actually.If you could just try and talk one at a time, if possible sowe can pick it up, because we're going to askif it's OK if we record it.That's fantastic.But as I say, please say as much or as little as you'd like.

  • 04:48

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: You're just here to answer the questions,have a good discussion.There's not any right or wrong answers.When you're running a focus group,you've got to see yourself as a host really to some extentand arrive in advance, look at the room,think about how it's laid out and makeit as comfortable as possible for the participants.So you've got to think in advance about tables,for example.Do you want people to sit around a table?

  • 05:10

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: Are they going to be writing and having to sit at the table?Or do you want it to more be just a circle of chairs, wherethey can all face each other?It can also help as a moderator for youto position yourself in a very central location, because whenyou are moderating a group, your body language can actuallybe a very important way to manage the dynamic.So let's say, for example, someone's got a lot to say;

  • 05:31

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: it's really interesting, but you wantto make sure other people get a chance to say things.Rather than say that to them, youcan subtley turn your shoulder a little bit,give more attention and direction to other peoplein the group, and bring them in that way.For that to be effective, you've gotto make sure you're positioned in a place in the room, whereyou can have that kind of leverage around the group.We asked participants to introduce themselves, maybe

  • 05:52

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: ask to start talking about somethingthat you know they'll all be able to talk about.So you can start to have them discuss things, talkto each other and feel comfortable in communicating.And it's really important to get the group flowing,so they're used to talking to each other.They're comfortable talking to each other,and they're in that frame of mindbefore you start to explore the really key issues so that you

  • 06:13

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: make sure the data you get at that pointis really valuable data for you.What I wanted to ask about now were the sorts of announcementsthat you can remember hearing when you're on the train,like anything that comes to the top of your mind.What's the sort of announcements that you're used to hearing?

  • 06:28

    SPEAKER 1: The last time I heard an announcement was when therewas overcrowding on a platform

  • 06:32


  • 06:34

    SPEAKER 1: Because one train had broken down,so everyone had to go off that train.

  • 06:37


  • 06:38

    SPEAKER 1: And they had to get on our train.It was just chaos.

  • 06:41

    CAROL NICHOLLS: These kind of things.

  • 06:42

    SPEAKER 2: The train was going completely fine.All of a sudden, it stops, and it stops about 15 minutes.The operator said, hello.Just letting you know that there'sgoing to be some delays.Don't know how long we're going to be here for.

  • 06:52

    CAROL NICHOLLS: Once you move through the discussion,you'll typically then start to askquestions that have a lot of relevanceto your research questions.But you'll still want to have a logical flow to them.So perhaps start asking about somethingthat's still quite broad to the group,and maybe introduce the first exerciseto get them thinking about that more specificallyas an actual issue.[INAUDIBLE], it's an exercise we'll do today

  • 07:14

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: include actually playing an announcementthat they would hear on the railway,and then ask them to write down their initial thoughtsabout it.

  • 07:21

    ANNOUNCER: May I have your attention please,on platform 1?We are sorry to announce that the 12:34 service to Nottinghamhas been cancelled.This is due to a person hit by a train.We apologize for the inconveniencethis may cause you.

  • 07:38

    CAROL NICHOLLS: So how did that make you feel?What was your first thoughts, first of all?Let's do that.

  • 07:43

    SPEAKER 3: I always almost questionall of that, how it [INAUDIBLE] what actually happened.

  • 07:47


  • 07:48

    SPEAKER 3: My initial thought was frustration,because obviously, it impacts my journey and stuff like that.But then there's the oh, how could someonehave gotten struck by a train anyway in the first place?

  • 07:56

    SPEAKER 4: It's a bit harsh.You just think of yourself.It's very self-centered.

  • 07:59

    SPEAKER 1: You definitely do feel guiltyfor your initial sense of frustration--

  • 08:03


  • 08:03

    SPEAKER 1: --when it's first announced.

  • 08:05

    SPEAKER 5: My thoughts were I hope it's not someonethat's-- because sometimes, you see people pushing forwardon a platform when the train starts to approach.I was thinking, I hope it's not someone that accidentallyslipped or got barged by someone's bag or somethingand then fell on, because that would just be really tragic.

  • 08:20

    CAROL NICHOLLS: Then we get through additional exercises.We were at a card sorting exercise.We put them into slightly smaller groups,which can be really valuable to enable peopleto focus in on specific issues, but stillbe sharing points of view.So we put them into smaller subgroups,give them a set of cards with a number of different optionsand ask them to rate them in order of preference.

  • 08:41

    SPEAKER 6: If you were the managers of the train companywhich one you think it would be the most appropriate,and which one the least appropriate?

  • 08:49

    SPEAKER 4: So we've got due to fatality there.Due to trespasses.I just feel angry at that one.

  • 09:01

    SPEAKER 5: Yeah.It sounds like someone's on the tracks--

  • 09:04

    SPEAKER 4: Yeah.

  • 09:04

    SPEAKER 5: --and they could just be--

  • 09:05

    SPEAKER 4: If it was a fatality I wouldn't want to feel angry,if someone had hurt themself.

  • 09:10

    SPEAKER 3: Due to a [INAUDIBLE].That's pretty much to the point, right, isn't it?

  • 09:16

    SPEAKER 2: Yeah.

  • 09:17

    CAROL NICHOLLS: What was your favorite announcement,the most appropriate announcement for an issuelike this?

  • 09:21

    SPEAKER 5: We picked due to emergency services dealingwith an incident--

  • 09:24


  • 09:25

    SPEAKER 5: --just because it's a variation of the police one,but police sounds too alarming.Emergency services sounds like the kind of accidentthat you don't expect in a criminal behavioror something like that.

  • 09:39

    CAROL NICHOLLS: So enough information [INAUDIBLE].So we've got both of you actually like dueto emergency services dealing with an incident.That's interesting.An accident involving a persons.So where did you put that one?What'd you think about it?

  • 09:49

    SPEAKER 2: We put that second [INAUDIBLE].

  • 09:50

    CAROL NICHOLLS: OK.Yeah.So that's been really interesting.One of the things about these cards that we gave out to youis that it mentions on the lined [INAUDIBLE], for example,so it says about where it's happened.You could just look through some of these again.That one actually says, due to trespassing [INAUDIBLE]at Wimbledon.How important is it to you that you get some location

  • 10:11

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: information?Does it matter?

  • 10:13

    SPEAKER 3: If you're on, for example, an all stations train,and there's likely to be a massive delay, because you'rethen getting through that incident,some people can arrange for alternative travelsfrom certain stations.So I think that helps people plan their journey,try and plan around the incident if they can.

  • 10:29

    CAROL NICHOLLS: Actually, there'sa concept called imitative behavior whichis in terms of thinking about suicide prevention,if people know a lot about locations and waysin which suicides can happen and they're vulnerable, potentiallyat risk of suicides themselves, we know through researchthat actually, suicides can increase through those methods

  • 10:50

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: or at those locations.And that's why we're doing this research,to understand from your point of view, as passengersthe level of information you want,the type of language that you want to make sure it'san appropriate message for you.But it's also not one that's maybegoing to think too much information about what'sactually happened.So what do you think about that concept?Are you surprised by that concept,

  • 11:10

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: that it could actually increase suicides happening,knowing where it is?

  • 11:15

    SPEAKER 3: I suppose it does make sense,because there was an instance where I was coming into work,and there were two suicides one day after the other.And they're both from the same bridge.So I suppose that's evidence that plays true.So it's not to say it's not about awhy is there [INAUDIBLE] on the same bridge?But then that, I suppose, answers the question.

  • 11:35

    SPEAKER 3 [continued]: But I've never really thought about it in that way.

  • 11:37


  • 11:37

    SPEAKER 5: You hear this kind of announcement,and people start to jump to conclusions, I think.So they might be thinking all sorts.They might be thinking terrorism or something like that.So the less specific you are with the majority of people,I don't know-- the more hysteria it might cause,instead of catering to the specific few peoplethat it might help.

  • 11:58

    SPEAKER 5 [continued]: I don't know.It might cause some more macro problems.

  • 12:01

    CAROL NICHOLLS: OK.That's an interesting perspective.For this project, we have a client, some specific clients,Network Rail, Passenger Focus, whohave commissioned the study.So they are really keen to know as soonas possible what the findings are,because they have to make strategic or business decisionsbased on the results of your research.So we'll then go to the client and present the findingsin what we call a debrief session usually on a PowerPoint

  • 12:24

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: presentation, but with a lot of detail.We'll present the findings for themand have a workshop session, wherewe can answer questions and explorethe implications of the findings with them in more detail.And it's also really important that thereis a public record of the findingsand a way to communicate that more broadly.So we will be writing a summary of the findingsin a Word document, which will eventually

  • 12:44

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: be published online, alongside the presentation that we'vedone.It's really important that you can get your messages outthere in a clear and coherent way that'sright for the audience.So there's a whole range of ways you can do that.And for this study, it's very muchgoing to be presentations and a summary.Sometimes it's conference talks, academic journal articles.It's really helpful to think in advance alsoabout who your end audience is and what

  • 13:05

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: you need to write that's going to beappropriate and effective to engage them.For this study, we're also going to create some short videosfrom the little videos that we take at the end of each group,asking people about their opinions,so we can bring to life to the audience what the direct viewsand experiences of the participantswere after showing them the video whenwe do the presentations.I don't want to keep you longer than we said we would

  • 13:27

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: when you originally agreed to come.So I just want to thank you very much for your time.It's been a really useful discussion.It's been really helpful for us.As I mentioned at the beginning, wewill be writing a report to Network Rail and TransportFocus, who are doing this research.| know they're really interested in the outputs.And we don't know what will exactly happen,

  • 13:47

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: but they may go on to change the announcements,or influence different policy decisions makings.So we really appreciate your time and your inputs.It's really valuable to us.It's been really good of you to come in, give usyour time today.Thank you.

  • 13:59

    SPEAKER 4: Thank you.

  • 14:00

    CAROL NICHOLLS: Working in a research agencyis really enjoyable, really fast paced, very busy.You get to use all sorts of research skills,but also, a lot of project management skills, a clientliaison.You get to work with all sorts of peoplefrom all different walks of life.And you have to always be thinking strategicallyabout what your end user, usually the client,really needs from the research that you're doing.

  • 14:22

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: You typically will work on between two to five,six projects at the time.They'll have different deadlines.So it can be fast-paced, and there's lots going on.But also, you work in a team.So you'll have the number of colleaguesthat you're working with.You can talk about the project, divide up tasks.So it's fast-paced.It's busy.You get to really use and hone your research skills.You can be doing an interview in the afternoon, a focus

  • 14:43

    CAROL NICHOLLS [continued]: group in the evening, writing a proposal on the train home.So it could be really busy, but they simulating and fun.And it's a really enjoyable career choice.


Carol McNaughton Nicholls discusses focus group research and working in a research agency. Focus groups are a type of qualitative research in which the researcher gathers information through a directed discussion. As an example, McNaughton Nicholls looked at the terminology train companies use to announce a delay due to suicide.

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Running Focus Groups: Truth Market Research

Carol McNaughton Nicholls discusses focus group research and working in a research agency. Focus groups are a type of qualitative research in which the researcher gathers information through a directed discussion. As an example, McNaughton Nicholls looked at the terminology train companies use to announce a delay due to suicide.

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