Stretching your interview skills

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February 2018

By Partner, Jade Maloney, and Consultant, Maria Koleth

Interviews and focus groups allow you to gather in-depth data on people’s experiences and understand what underlies the patterns in quantitative data. However, handling dominant voices and opening up space for divergent views and quiet types in focus groups can pose challenges for even experienced researchers. Recently, Partner, Jade Maloney, facilitated a workshop with researchers from the Australian Human Rights Commission to reflect on their practice and stretch their skills through scenario-based activities.

Here are our top five tips for successful interviews and focus groups:

  • Choose the right method for the information you need: While individual interviews are generally best when the subject matter is sensitive or you are interested in individual experiences, focus groups are great for capturing group dynamics and experiences. However, there’s also a need for pragmatism. If resourcing and time constraints prevent you from undertaking individual interviews, you can make focus groups work by specifically targeting your questions.
  • Start out well: How you start can make all the difference to how well an interview or focus group goes. Explain who you are and what your research is about. Let them ask you questions; you’re about to ask them a lot! In a group, establishing rules can set the foundation for positive interaction and provide you a reference point to return to if issues arise. Some key rules are making clear that there are no right or wrong answers, that we want to hear from everyone, that we should refrain from judging others’ points of view, and that we need to respect the confidence of the group.
  • Use a competency framework: Facilitators can use a competency framework to prepare for, rate and reflect on their skills and experience in focus groups and interviews. The ARTD competency framework, built over years of practice, specifies general competencies (e.g. being respectful and non-judgemental), competencies displayed during the interview, (giving space and focusing), and higher-order skills (group management and opening up alternatives).   
  • Play out scenarios: Despite the cliché that ‘nobody likes roleplays’, playing challenging interview and focus group situations can be a great way to try out different responses to tough situations you have come up against, so you can approach them differently next time, or to prepare for potentially challenging focus groups. It can also be fun! Thanks to Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore from Creative Facilitation, we’ve learned that it helps to whittle a scenario down to a line and use a rapid fire approach to test responses, and then to reflect on the experience. Scenario testing can help interviewers get into the head of their interviewees. It’s always important to remember that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to testing scenarios and that something that works in one research situation might not work again.
  • Find time to reflect: With the quick turn-around times and demanding reporting requirements of applied research environments it can be difficult to take the time to systematically reflect as a team. Setting up both informal and formal opportunities for reflection on qualitative practice can help team members learn from each other’s wealth of experience.  

 Want to learn more? Speak to us about out interviewing skills workshops on 9373 9900