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Nicole Jackson on Improving Interview Techniques During Formative Evaluations

Hello, my name is Nicole Jackson. I am both an adjunct faculty in the Human Resource Management Certificate program at U.C. Berkeley Extension and a doctoral candidate in Policy, Organization, Measurement, and Evaluation at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. From my previous and current work, I discovered that interviewing is both an art and a science especially when it is used in more formative evaluations. Although considered important, interviews are prone to researcher bias that can impact data collection and reporting. Below I offer some tips to help mitigate forms of research bias during interviews.

Hot Tip #1: Understand how different interview formats may alter findings. The two general categories of interview formats include invidual versus panel interviews and unstructured versus structured interview scripts. Individual or one-on-one interviews as well as unstructured or loose ended-scripts are the most prone to researcher bias. Both of these formats lend easily to loss of control due to different personality types that can affect information collection. Where possible, try to use multiple interviewers or a small panel with a structured interview script to help mitigate and triangulate real-time interview data. Structured interview scripts should always focus on the critical research questions during an evaluation project.

Hot Tip #2: Tailor question types according to personality type and experience level. A variety of question types exist to help evaluators navigate difficult and shy personality types as well as those participants with more or less knowledge and experience. Where possible try to use more open-ended, situational questions with follow-up probes for more shy personalities and those participants with more knowledge and experience. For more difficult personalities, begin with more close-ended (e.g., yes/no) questions and then transition to open-ended question prompts in order to maintain control and focus during the interview.

Hot Tip #3: Never underestimate the role of the interview environment. Nothing can be as frustrating as a distracting interview environment. Always conduct interviews in a quiet, private location with good lighting, appropriate room temperature, and minimum distraction. Have water ready to go to place participants at ease. When using recording technology, always consider Murphy’s Law and have extra notepads and recorders ready on hand. Test all recording equipment during the first two minutes of the interview as a safe-guard.

Hot Tip #4: Be mindful of both verbal and non-verbal language. Experts on interviewing claim that non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal behavior in evaluating the trustworthiness of data. Be aware of how your own body language and those of your participants can alter data collection and assessment. Never use closed poses such as crossed arms while interviewing, which is a sign of defensive behavior. Also, be mindful that non-verbal behaivor is culturally influenced.

Nicole will be conducting a roundtable at evaluation 2010 on improving methods of inquiry to incorporate diverse views and perspectives. Join Nicole and over 2500 colleagues at AEA’s Annual conference this November in San Antonio.

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