What is a two-way mirror and why are they used in focus groups?
If you have ever participated in a qualitative market research focus group or group discussion, your recruiter will have explained to you about any audio or video recording that takes place, to help the researcher write their report later. It is important that during the discussion the talk flows and unfolds naturally without stopping or interrupting when taking notes or requesting a replay, and these days the recording and even the live broadcast of the investigation is very normal. Of course, it is protected at all times by the code of conduct of the Market Research Society in the UK and similar bodies in other countries, and today people are much more comfortable with the idea of video surveillance and recording, that a camera in the corner of the room rarely feels awkward or intrusive.
However, many professional research facilities have another feature that you won’t find in the average living room, which looks like a huge mirror, often filling a wall. It doesn’t look much like a normal mirror, and that’s because it isn’t; as everyone knows, it has a reflective surface, in the research room, but from the other side it simply acts as a window. Behind the glass is where the client sits to observe the research being carried out. The name ‘two-way mirror’ isn’t really very good, it would make more sense to describe it as a one-way window, because that’s how it works. If the lights were on in the back room you would see them sitting there, they have to look at you in the brightly lit study sitting there in the dark.
The moderator who leads the research group will, of course, refer to the mirror and let you know if there are people behind it; usually if someone is paying to use a viewing facility, they will want to view the groups directly. But part of the moderator’s job is to make all participants feel completely comfortable, and while it may be hard to imagine when you first notice the big gray wall and see your own surprised face reflected in it, you will soon forget that it is there. ! Once you are caught up in the discussion and share your views in a well planned and lively group, it will simply take a backseat.
Of course, you will know on a level that this is not just a group of friends chatting, it is a guided discussion designed to uncover certain things of their opinions, and someone is paying for that, hence the mirror and the camera and finesse. snack trays. But when the investigator does his job well, you can put all that awareness aside and catch up on responding to what is being talked about, safe in the knowledge that industry codes of ethics and conduct control who sees and knows what extremely securely – so your views can be shared safely. It’s actually a lot less intrusive than having a group of observers sitting in the room, taking notes or raising their eyebrows according to what is being said about your product or brand.
Why do people still sit behind mirrors in these days of streaming and video technology? There are many reasons. Most researchers would say that it has nothing to do with habit or what they have always done, and they would tell you that you simply get closer to the real atmosphere and perceptions in the room, when you are sitting a few feet from it in instead of looking at your screen at home. They know that being in the room itself could unduly influence the discussion, but they are eager to get as close to it as possible and be able to choose who to pay attention to at any given time. The video is great and getting better all the time, but nuances of body language and facial expression can be difficult to capture, especially in a group, and different observers will have different priorities and notice different things. Qualitative research is often about getting as close to the customer’s experience as possible, without changing what you’re trying to observe … and using two-way or one-way glass in a display facility is a good way to simulate that.