Health Evaluation TIG Week: Lessons Learned from Virtual Interviews and Focus Groups by Aundrea Carter and Celeste Chung

Hi! We are Aundrea Carter and Celeste Chung, evaluators at Deloitte Consulting, LLP and members of the Deloitte’s Evaluation and Research for Action Community of Excellence (ERA COE). Since the pandemic, we have conducted more and more virtual interviews and focus groups for process evaluations. We and our colleagues have experienced various interruptions as we interview people in their homes and in ours:

  • The barking dog that needs to be let out
  • The child who is home sick, refuses to leave their caregiver’s lap, and keeps asking questions
  • The noisy home repairs
  • The person trying to power through a cold
  • The house member who forgets you have a meeting and is making a smoothie, talking on the phone right outside your door, etc.
  • The cat that steals the spotlight
  • The kid who bursts through the door excited to see their caregiver after school

We’re sure you’ve had similar experiences. Today we’re sharing our lessons learned navigating virtual interviews and focus groups: 

Hot Tip #1:

Address the potential for interruptions. During the introduction, acknowledge any potential interruptions you are aware of and, for participant(s) who are joining from home, let them know it’s OK if interruptions happen on their end. If the interruption may be distracting or personal, offer to have a video optional or video flexible interview or focus group.

Hot Tip #2:

Be mindful of the setting. Offering to be flexible helps manage potential interruptions and reminds us to be mindful of people’s preferences. Some of us may be accustomed to having our personal lives shared while working from home and others may still feel uncomfortable having our personal lives mix with virtual work. We know being on video can help build rapport, but we’ve also learned that showing flexibility can be another rapport-building tool.

Additional Hot Tip:

Leverage technology options to set the virtual space. Options like adding a Zoom background or using Microsoft Teams “Together Mode” can help participants feel comfortable being on camera and increase engagement in conversations. For example, in Teams Together Mode, facilitators can create a virtual space that puts each participant in a scene when they join the meeting. This allows participants on video to feel like they are together in the scene. There are many built-in scenes that can be useful for interviews, like having everyone sit around a dining room table or in a conference room.

Hot Tip #3:

Plan for the unexpected. We put a lot of upfront planning into our interviews and focus groups, however, we have learned that planning for the unexpected has helped us smoothly navigate potential challenges. A few things we have found helpful:

  • Designate a backup interviewer and notetaker, if applicable.
  • Be ready to pivot to another technology as needed (e.g., switch from Zoom to Teams or online platform to phone call).
  • Block time before and after the interview or focus group in case extra time is needed to manage interruptions.
  • Offer to schedule an additional time with participants if needed.
  • Build in time for preparation with participants. A pre-interview call or email to set the stage and check for experience with technology can help participants feel more comfortable and give facilitators insight into potential issues that might arise on the day of the interview.

What are your lessons learned from conducting virtual interviews and focus groups? Share your lessons learned in the comment box below!

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Health Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in Health Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our HE TIG members. 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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