What is a Moderator?
A Moderator is a person who runs and manages a qualitative group discussion or focus group.
What is the role of the moderator?
A moderator’s primary role is to keep group discussion running smoothly, on subject, elicit thoughts, and to explore opinions, feelings and beliefs. It is important to remember that it’s not a moderator’s role to force an answer from the group, or talk down a participant’s contribution. As a Moderator you must be mindful to manage the processes within the group and also any group dynamics that arise such as dominant participants or participants that won’t stay on topic. It is the role of the Moderator to steer the discussion so that it results in the objectives of the research being met. It is okay to guide the group using the research plan and to explore new paths of group discussion. As a moderator you should initially focus on ensuring each participant contributes to the discussion topic, answers all questions and stays on track.
Tips for Moderators
A moderator may face a number of challenges when conducting a real-time online focus groups or discussion boards. Here are some key suggestions on how to overcome them:
- Start the session with some simple and general questions about the topic of the research. This gets the dialogue flowing and gets participants used to how the session interface works.
- If one participant tries to dominate the session, the moderator should invite each person to speak in turn.
- Avoid personal confrontation and allow the group to police itself (e.g. “do others in the group agree?”). Make sure you have defined the group rules before the group discussion begins. Present a rules page, or introduction in the case of a discussion board, to the group with a basic list of rules or guidelines to follow.
- Participants will have many different attitudes and prejudices. Don’t ignore these - work with them. Just say: “We seem to have a difference of opinion here. Let’s talk about it together. Why do we all think differently on this topic?” Then let the group discuss it. Use differences of opinion as a topic of discussion. As a moderator always avoid taking sides!
- If the group is slow off the mark promote and foster discussion. Ask open-ended questions. Ones that cannot be answered with just a YES or a NO.
- From the beginning, adopt a `listening’ rather than a `questioning’ approach. Start with general issues and make sure you cover the issues you need to cover.
- Questions do not need to be followed in the order they are presented in the timeline. If the discussion naturally leads to a different topic follow this, but make sure everything is eventually covered.
- Take issues ‘offline’. If things get heated during the session, it may be wise to ‘park’ the issue and address it later, either as a private message or chat session (one on one with the individual) or as part of a separate group discussion.
- Dealing with technical issues. Despite planning and practice your group members may still run into trouble due to Internet connectivity issues. In a live group session GroupQuality has a backup to attempt to reconnect participants if they lose real-time connectivity. The participant will see prompts on their screen notifying them of what is happening. If a participant gets disconnected make sure they know they can log right back in and rejoin the group at anytime. Keep a phone number or email address of the participant nearby in case you need someone to follow-up to make sure the participant is able to continue.
- Don’t ask too many questions. This will tire the participants resulting in their responses becoming less as the session runs. This will result in fewer, shorter answers or avoidance of the question altogether.
- Create a pleasant tone with your participants. Treat them as guests, ensuring they are happy and content.
- Encourage participants to talk to each other and comment on each other’s responses.
1. Be prepared and test your research plan prior to the scheduled group.
2. Document any group rules and communicate them to participants at the start as either an introductory page in the workspace or in the initial group chat. Ensure these rules are reinforced during the discussion.
3. Ensure individuals engage with one another.
4. Provide all participants the opportunity to contribute.
5. Promote healthy discussion through open-ended questions.
6. Summarise key points of discussion, but do not lead.
7. Ensure group sessions run on time and stay on track.