Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Our First Focus Group

Focus groups elicit information about feelings, perceptions, ideas and experience – all qualitative data. They consist of five to ten people who are brought together to talk about a particular subject or project.

Participants can be selected to represent particular user groups (families, local community, age, gender or accessibility) this enables a subject or project to be developed to meet their particular needs and interests. Those participating are told in broad terms what they are going to be asked about. A facilitator guides the session using a set of guidelines drawn up in advance, listing types of questions to be asked. Questions are open-ended and pictures / objects can be used to stimulate discussion and response.

Focus groups allow ideas to be discussed and developed with your audience, in order that a subject or project is a reflection of a two way conversation with your audience revealing that you have engaged with the views / opinions of your audience. This creates ways of engaging and interpreting subjects that increase the interest of knowing - a thirst for knowledge, and an appetite for understanding. As a museum you are also building support, commitment and a sense of ownership. Projects should not be developed for your audience but with your audience.

We recently held our first focus group led by our Museum Engagement Officer, on Wednesday 14th February 2018. Ten people attended who represented eight audiences: museums, arts organisation, conservator, school teacher, AUB professional service staff, AUB academic staff, AUB student and public. We held the focus group with the aim of widening our audience beyond AUB within the community by asking ‘what do you want to get out of MoDiP?’

The evaluation looked at participants answers to ten questions. It gave an overview of audiences opinions about plastics, level of understanding and knowledge of plastics, what they would most like to learn about plastics and what they feel a museum like MoDiP should offer its visitors.

Questions asked during the focus group included ‘how much do you know about plastics?’ Out of the ten participants, nine said they knew ‘something’ and one said they knew ‘a lot’. A good example of why they felt they knew something was due to the daily use of plastics.

Participants were asked ‘how do you feel about plastics?’ which opened up fascinating responses in that participants felt plastics were essential to daily use, have changed our lives for the good / bad and are misunderstood / misapplied.

Further questions asked of the participants were in relation to design in plastics, 'what subjects they would like to see addressed through a display or exhibition?’ The top subject in common with most participants was, recycling. We have now programmed in what will be our second exhibition on recycling ‘plastics and sustainability’ in 2019.

As a result of the focus group MoDiP is thinking about how audience opinions can add value and looking at how we might incorporate other issues raised by the focus group. They include:

  • As a specialist museum for design in plastics we should seek opportunities to take the lead in changing people’s perceptions / opinions about plastics, to make them more understood and to look beyond the negative which the media portray.
  • Have objects available in the museum for handling so our public can appreciate what they feel like, how heavy they are etc., as well as what they look like.
  • A programme of rolling exhibitions in the cases outside the museum relating to different AUB courses.
  • Develop a video, film or animation, explaining the range of processes used in plastics manufacturing.

The focus group has highlighted the value of engaging and listening to the voices of our existing and potential audiences. We intend to hold more focus groups in order to work in collaboration with our audiences rather than for them. 

For the full evaluation of the focus group please e-mail us at to be sent a pdf document.

Sarah Jane Stevens, AMA (Museum Engagement Officer)

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