10 “DOs” for the In-Context Interview

For better or for worse, the interview is probably the largest part of the qualitative researcher’s job.  Learning to do it well is harder than it appears, particularly when it is in context rather than a formal, or even semi-formal, setting.  The in-context  interview is a lengthy conversation (often 2+ hours) that explores the values, needs, practices, desires, frustrations, and aspirations of our participants.  With that in mind, there are some simple tips to remember when conducting an in-context interview.  First and foremost, it is a conversation.  With that as the guiding principle, remember these points.  The conversation should:

  • Be long enough to make your participant or participants feel like they are really being heard.  This allows them to get past the desire to tell you things they think you want to hear and to move beyond their rehearsed “script.”
  • Be focused enough so that you feel you are getting useful information to address your business challenge, but general enough so that the conversation can take unexpected turns which lead to unexpected insights.
  • Generate a back-and-forth conversation rather than an interrogation. This establishes greater rapport and puts the interviewee at ease.
  • Make the interviewee feel that the conversation is about them, not about the product, service, or brand.
  • Ask open-ended questions, or questions that require a longer explanation than one word.
  • Have a dynamic conversation,  don’t interview from a script.
  • Allow long pauses rather than filling “dead” space.  Participants will fill that conversational space for you.
  • Be willing to ask naïve questions to hear the explanation in their words – the participant is the expert so let them educate you.
  • Don’t correct people; understand their perceptions and why they perceive things as they do.
  • Know when and when not to “lead.” Once rapport is established, it is perfectly reasonable to point out discrepancies in what people say and do (e.g. they say they eat at the dinner table as a family every night, but there is half an inch of dust on the table – ask about this).
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