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Interview reflections

My musing today is about my experience so far using interviews as a data collection method.  The whole process of conversing and listening to fellow project managers has been a learning and enjoyable experience, and every single interview has left a signature or unique impression on me.

I’ve purposefully been an active interviewer to maximise my connections a) as a project manager/researcher interviewing project managers, and b) the shared company events and contexts, but what are the lessons to date?

  1. Interview schedules are a quite a time costly exercise – contacting interviewees, arranging time/place, handling re-arrangements if they no-show or change, and the follow ups before and after the interview all takes time.  I found a simple excel spreadsheet and outlook calendar helped.
  2. I offered the choice of interview location to each interviewee, hopefully they chose a place where they would feel comfortable to talk.  Abu Dhabi’s coffee shops have been popular, however, the recordings from these locations have been hard to transcribe at times – due to not being able to control the noise levels from babies screaming, music rocking, or grinding or cleaning the coffee machines!  I prefer the interviewee comfort over trying to enforce quiet locations.
  3. Interviews require quite a lot of energy and intensity.  Considering my interviews have ranged from 90-150mins in duration, I can handle no more than 2 per day – on top of my day job, plus the commute.  Being attentive, active listening and controlling my terrible tendency to interrupt is energy intensive.  One per day might be optimal for part-time researchers.
  4. Frustratingly in four out of 14 interviews, one of the recording devices (iPhone) has not work for some reason.  Having a back up recording device (Livescribe Pen) has saved my bacon.  Anyone who know how’s to convert a livescribe pencast file into mp3 so I can transcribe the backup files in NVivo – please email me!
  5. Technique: well, I’m slowly getting better……I think.  When I went through my first few interviews the number of times the interviewee and I were speaking at the same time was appalling. Embarrassing in fact!  Nonetheless, the lesson perhaps is that you can benefit from trying to transcribe the interviews as soon after the interview so that these kind of reflections on your technique can positively influence future interviews.  I have however, refrained from actually formally beginning any systematic data analysis but discourses and patterns naturally pop out.
  6. Question phrasing:  I’m noticing that some of the early phrasing of questions got blank stares and required too much explanation on my part.  Since then, I’ve tried to find simpler and more appropriate ways to phrase the question – done gradually AND at roughly the midway point in my interview schedule.
  7. Trust/Safety can be a big factor to getting good data or not.  I’ve have one particularly bad interview where I was accused of steering the interviewee to talk about something that they were not happy to talk about.  What was interesting was how their body language went defensive and closed – actually it was only at the end that this person opened up again with about 5mins to spare!  This has thankfully not been a pattern i.e. 1/14 cases.  Most actually found the interview to be really useful for them and some actually told me at the end what they got out of it.  I will admit however, that having insider knowledge does mean I’m steering a bit….but that’s got more to do with a pattern emerging from previous interviews not any pre-concieved judgment on my part, but equally perhaps hard to separate.
There is one last point ringing in my head.  Once I was described as demonstrating journalist tendencies rather than an academic ones – mainly I think from my passion and rhetoric, my comfort in taking on a political agenda, and previous seemily lack of interest in academic theory development.
Now given my interview style (choice) I find myself wondering how different research interviews and journalist interviews really are?  What has changed in me, is my understanding in the need for adding to the academic conversation, my agreement that we need rigour  research (in whatever style appropriate for the ontological / epistemological genre).
Nevertheless – in the interview – I simply feel that making the most of the connections, the relationships, the history is beneficial rather than taking a passive academic interviewer stance.  For me, its about getting to the ‘real’ interesting data underneath the veneers people and organisatons maintain.  I’m simply happy to do whatever it takes to get great data – then create the social/intellectual distance during the formal analysis phase!
What do you think?  Love to hear from you!
  1. July 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    This is a useful experience to share, namely to reflect on what you did and why you did it. I suppose you will transcribe these interviews and then send back to the interviewees for their review. In the process, you will be able to listen to how much you spoke, if you cut off the interviewees, followed their points with new questions to help develop what they said, and the like.

    I do all of my interviews from a distance on a phone, so tend to have the recorded out along with my interview protocol (questions to ask) and even my research summary to help me stay focused with a notebook for constant notes of new ideas and things to follow-up on. With your doing things in person, have you found a rhythm for what and how to ask things yet?


    • July 7, 2011 at 9:52 am

      Hi Jeffrey. I originally (when I had a different cast study site) was going to share transcripts for review and approval, but I always felt this was a compromise. So in my back up plan case study site – I took that bit out of the informed consent form! As the interviews have progressed I’m pretty sure I’m letting the interviewee speak for much longer and I have found that rhythm you mention. I think your suggestion is a good one i.e. on some occasions where I have obviously cut them off – to go back to them. I’ve been studious and made sure that every interview receives a thank you email after the interview detailing potential follow up questions. Of course, given the sensitive issue around identities it may be tricky to insert a new question, or repeat a question outside of the flow of that interview. I have sometimes wondered whether people after the interview have thought – holy crap, did I say too much?


      • July 8, 2011 at 8:33 am

        Seems you are making good progress.

        Is this your first time engaging in research interviews?


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