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Carolyn Cohen and Davis Patterson on Interview Design Process

Hello, we are Carolyn Cohen (Manager, Cohen Research & Evaluation, LLC) and Davis Patterson (Research Scientist, University of Washington Department of Family Medicine). We have partnered on several evaluations over the years, and are always excited to try out new facilitation strategies. We sometimes find ourselves challenged by access to, and time constraints of, potential interviewees or focus group members. As a case in point, we were recently charged with collecting reflections and eliciting new information from a group of participants in a two-week teacher professional development session. We were scheduled for 90 minutes on the agenda at the end of a long day.

Hot Tip: The Interview Design Process, a hybrid of a focus group and a speed dating session, fit the bill. It generated full and lively engagement, allowed for physical movement, and produced findings beyond our expectations. This technique allows the evaluator to collect responses to multiple questions from a large group of people in a short amount of time. Here is how it works.

  • The evaluator generates a question set with 3-5 questions.
  • Participants are divided into groups, preferably seated at tables; each group receives the same question set.
  • Tablemates are assigned a set of interview partners; please see the attachments for the explanation of how to do this.
  • Each participant conducts interviews on one assigned question, and is interviewed on the other questions by tablemates.
  • Interviewing is complete when each participant has been interviewed on each question.
  • At this point, participants move to their “like” tables, and synthesize their findings. (i.e., those who conducted interviews on question 1 gather with other 1’s, etc.)
  • Finally, each group presents their findings to the whole group, and the evaluator can then facilitate a learning discussion.

Rad Resources: In AEA Library

Lessons Learned

  1. This process is for a group of 12 or more participants, but the beauty of it is that there is almost no limit to the number of persons, because they mostly manage their own participation.
  2. Use a visual aid to explain the process to participants. We attached 2 examples.
  3. The process definitely takes careful advance planning. The number of participants determines the number of questions and seating configuration. Depending on the physical space, interview partners can sit across from each other or next to each other (see our two PowerPoint visual aid examples).
  4. Ask participants to write their notes as clearly as they can, and be sure to collect all of them. Electronic note-taking is a great option.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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  • Becca C. · June 4, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Brilliant – thanks for sharing this! I can’t wait to try it.


  • Carolyn Cohen · June 4, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Please note that we will be adding another attachment in a day or two that uses animation to demonstrate the flow of this process.
    Carolyn Cohen and Davis Patterson


  • Beth Johnson · June 4, 2012 at 9:52 am

    What a great idea! Thanks for sharing it and the how-to documentation. Definitely a valuable addition to my data collection toolbox.


  • rick davies · June 2, 2012 at 1:52 am

    Great. This is parallel processing embodied as a social process, rather than as in a computer (where it increases computational efficiency -see


  • Ideas for interactive focus groups « Adventures of an Internal Evaluator · June 1, 2012 at 10:48 am

    […] The Interview Design Process, a hybrid of a focus group and a speed dating session (read more here) […]


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