2.3.1 In-depth interviews

There are several types of in-depth interviews that you are likely to do as part of Ethnographic Action Research:

  • Household interviews - literally, interviewing people in their homes, where they are comfortable, and where you can see and talk with them in their own space. You might be interviewing just one person, or several members of the household. These can be quite intimate and personal, discussions about interviewees' feelings, their family relationships, their financial situation, aspirations and so on.
  • Interviews with 'key informants' or community figures - for example, you might want to interview teachers, business people, religious figures, health workers, political figures. These might take place in their offices, and will probably be less personal. Your aim is to find out how they understand the community and its problems from their professional perspective and experience.
  • Interviews with staff and users - the aim is to find out how they relate to and use the project, and how it fits into and affects their lives.

Rather than using a questionnaire, in-depth interviews use an interview schedule - a list of themes or issues around a topic that you want to cover during the interview.

If you feel you need more structure or clarity when going into an interview (especially for the first couple of interviews) it can be useful to write a list of questions under each issue as a guide or prompt.

The aim is to cover all these issues in each interview, but flexibly, adapting both the order of the issues and questions to fit the flow of the conversation.

In-depth interviews will focus as much on things like feelings, meanings, and understandings as they do on getting more routine information.

Interviews don't just focus on media and technology use in isolation: for example, we would not just ask about radio listening, but try to find out how radio fits into the respondent's everyday life. This might mean asking quite wide-ranging questions.

A key skill in this kind of interviewing is to be open and responsive. You need to listen carefully and actively. At every moment, the interview could go in any number of different directions. You need to remain alert and be responsive to the different (often unpredicted) issues and topics that may arise. You can work on developing an instinct for sensing what is going to bring out the most interesting material. Be patient, this may take a few interviews but once you have mastered this skill it will serve you well.

The kinds of information the EAR researcher is attempting to uncover through in-depth interviews are interviewees':

  • Understandings
  • Meanings
  • Stories and experiences
  • Feelings
  • Motivations and aspirations

Tape record interviews if possible and transcribe them as soon as you are able. You will collect many recordings so label them all as soon as you have finished - include the date, who was interviewed, and where.

Tape recording can be preferable as it means you do not have to rely on your memory of an interview. This means that you will not spend your time during the interview trying to write everything down. Do remember however that different people will have different reactions to the use of a tape recorder. Always approach the recording of people's voices in a sensitive manner, and always obtain permission, explaining what you will use the recording for. If someone is hesitant to be taped then conduct the interview without it. In this case, during the interview keep brief notes of the key things that come up and find time as soon as possible after the interview to write up more comprehensive notes. While this approach will capture less of the details of the interview, it can be effective at capturing the main and most relevant points, and it can save time as taped interviews do require transcribing.

Also make a note of the interview and any impressions or feelings you had during the interview when you write up your field notes for that day. It is useful to take notes during the interviews, regardless of whether you are tape recording or not.

  • These notes can be useful at the time - note down points that you want to expand upon later, so as not to stop the flow of conversation at that point.
  • They can also be a useful guide later when you come to transcribe the interview.
  • You can use these notes to add observations and thoughts about this interview in your field notes.

Not all tape recorded interviews will need to be fully transcribed, which is a very time consuming activity. One hour of interview takes up to six hours to transcribe. When translation is involved this takes even longer.

Full transcriptions are preferable, but it is often more practical to listen to recordings and write up the main points - fully transcribing sections that you feel are particularly relevant or interesting. These word-for-word transcriptions of particularly rich sections of the recording are useful as you can then analyse them in more depth. They will also serve to powerfully illustrate your research findings when you write reports.

The notes or transcripts from interviews will form a major part of your data and if they are not properly documented this data will be lost.

Documenting interviews as fully as possible is important and time must be allowed for this to happen. Do not underestimate the time this will take.