Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Stories about the interview process: before the interview

The interview is one method of data collection which some researcher employ in their research in an attempt to gain insight about phenomena. If we do a search of Google Scholar or any educational database with which we are familiar for information on interviewing, we will find much information. This information will cover areas such as structuring of interviews, timing of interviews, approaches which are used in the interviewing process, types of interview questions, types of interviews, qualities to be possessed by interviewers, positioning of the interviewer in the exchange with subjects/ respondents/informants/participants, purposes of interviews, among other related themes.

All of this information is useful, especially for the new researcher who has selected this method of data collection as being the ideal one, or one of a combination of methods of collecting data, to build on existing knowledge and understanding of a particular phenomenon.

However, before the actual interview takes place our knowledge and understanding of much more than the issue with which we are concerned are enhanced.

As a budding researcher, imagine that after casting your net far and wide, you eventually reel in a few persons who satisfy the criteria that you had set for selecting participants for your research and who have indicated a willingness to participate in your research. You are extremely grateful to them for having agreed to participate. You agree on a date and time for the interview, or you may have difficulty doing so with some participants. But, eventually the day arrives for you to meet with the participant who had managed to settle on a date and time for the interview.

You may experience one or the other, or elements of, or none of the scenarios outlined below. But you will definitely have a story to tell afterwards.

Scenario 1: You arrive for the interview. You are greeted cordially by the gatekeeper/s and directed to the participant who knows who you are, had read all the literature you had beforehand provided to him/her about your research and is ready to engage with the issues you had outlined as being up for discussion or, if you had not outlined any issues, is ready to participate in whatever discussion you have in store.

Scenario 2: You arrive fifteen minutes before the scheduled start of the interview. You are greeted cordially by the gatekeeper/s and directed to a seat in an area reserved for visitors. You are told that the participant is busy at the moment or is “running late” with a previous appointment. You may find yourself waiting for what will seem like hours, when in reality it is only an hour, for the appointment to be kept. The gatekeeper/s will be proffering apologies at regular intervals. Finally, the participant is ready to meet with you. The participant apologises for the delay but looks at you askance before saying, “remind me of who you are again and the nature of your visit”. You acquiesce. The participant has a “eureka” moment and the interview proceeds.

Scenario 3: You arrive for the interview. The gatekeepers ignore you until you gently demand their attention. They tell you that the participant is not available and go back to their duties. After you wait for further clarification and they sense that you have not moved on they lift their heads from the task that had captured their attention and attempt to re-direct you to someone else. You tell them you’ll wait for the participant. They go back to their duties. You find a seat. You wait. The participant who is quite pleasant arrives just in time for the interview. You proceed with the interview.

Scenario 4: You may have a participant who has agreed to the interview but cannot commit to a date and time. Finally, after many excuses from the participant you take the initiative and send him/her a copy of the interview schedule. He/she responds promptly with written responses or, he/she may not respond at all.

Scenario 5: You arrive for the scheduled interview. The participant greets you cordially after being summoned by the gatekeeper. But, the participant wants you to again outline the nature of your visit, even though you had already done that in writing as well as verbally to the participant. The participant asks if you had gone through the official channels before you had got to her/him. You respond in the affirmative and provide evidence. The participant then outlines reasons why she/he is not the best person to participate in your research then redirects you to someone else. Remember, this person had agreed to participate in your research and had agreed to an interview. You leave without having conducted an interview.

There are many lessons to be learnt from these scenarios. We learn much about the process of research, we learn much about participants in this process, we learn much about the people who work in organisations, we learn much about the organisations themselves, we learn much about ourselves as individuals and as researchers and we have amassed much data which we can add to the existing body of knowledge on interviewing as a research method.