Greetings! I am Beverly Peters, an assistant professor of Measurement and Evaluation at American University. This is the fourth article in a 5 part series on Using Interviews for Monitoring and Evaluation. In the previous article of this series, we discussed different sampling strategies that evaluators might employ when deciding who to interview.
So far in this series, we have learned that choosing the right kind of interview and sampling strategy help to set the foundation for your interviews. Equally as important for collecting useful data from interviews are developing good questions, and having the skills to conduct interviews that will ultimately gather the rich, emic data we need as qualitative evaluators.
An important first step is crafting open ended, easily understood questions that help to illicit conversation and gather the rich emic data that is so important for us as qualitative evaluators. Good qualitative questions yield rich, descriptive data, and often ask about issues that are puzzling or problematic. You will likely find that you are able to craft more meaningful, informed questions if you have some knowledge about the project and the population.
As you develop your interview guide, you should organize your topics logically, asking an open ended or grand tour question first, to set your respondent at ease and get the conversation started. A grand tour question also gives the respondent a chance to tell you what they think is important. Ease your respondent into more controversial or sensitive questions towards the middle of the interview, after you have already developed rapport and trust.
As you craft questions, remember that you need to use wording and language that will make sense to your respondent. Likewise, your questions should not be confusing or overly controversial or accusatory. Evaluators always pilot their interview questions to learn what questions are confusing and need rewording, which questions yield useless data, and what additional questions need to be added to the interview guide.
Good qualitative interviewing requires us to have technical skills—how to develop a good interview guide, how to develop a good interview question, how to ask sensitive questions, and how to get more information when your respondent is not forthcoming with insight that you need for your evaluation design. You need to be able to read body language, and pinpoint areas for follow up. You need to be able to understand the local or project culture and be able to craft questions that are appropriate.
Good qualitative research, and good qualitative interviews, also require us to build rapport. In addition to discussing confidentiality with your respondent, this relates to being patient, tolerant, and perhaps even being humorous. Being a good interviewer also means being a good communicator, and being cognizant of who you are as an individual. Language and cross cultural communication skills can also help us to build better rapport with our respondents.
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