Here is a little video I did on how to do a research interview.
30 minutes long, fairly straightforward, I now have the technology sorted that I can make videos like this fairly easy and with decent quality. Might have used a better microphone, but what the heck, it works and only took me about four hours, including writing the outline.
As usual with these things: Caveat emptor. But this approach works for me.
Outline posted below the fold.
How to do a research interview
Espen Andersen, BI Norwegian Business School, March 2021
- Most common method in research and consulting
- No real instruction in how to do it – and doing it well requires preparation and a certain technique
- I have done more than 1000 interviews with executives from all over the world, have evolved a technique for doing it
- This works well for what I do – talk to execs about technology and business – your mileage might vary?
- An interview is a two-way conversation
Before the interview
- Schedule well in advance, getting on people’s calendars is major undertaking, and it takes time.
- Not more than three per day, you will lose the energy to make it a real conversation
- Set aside one hour for the interview and one hour for writing up the notes afterwards
- FTF, video or telephone?
- FTF takes travel time, creates distractions, but allows for conversations over a whiteboard or for visiting production facilities and other things
- Video does not add much, mainly a distraction
- Phone conversations is quick, easy, and allows you to multitask (being your own notetaker, for instance)
- Recording or not?
- Spooks some people (though they tend to forget it)
- Of limited value (confirmation, etc.) In any case, you’ll need permission to publish anything
- Get the technology right!
- Headset – good sound is essential!
- Keyboard or handwriting?
- FTF: Handwriting
- Video: Handwriting unless you do touch
- Telephone: Handwriting or keyboard
- Get a good and quiet keyboard!
- No disturbances, cell phone quiet,
- Role of interviewers
- Chat show host, keep the conversation going
- Note taker, color commentator
- Interview guide
- Not too specific
- Free-form (i.e., no set order)
- Supporting a conversation, not filling out a form)
During the interview
- Standard introduction
- Who you are, why you are doing this (what do you want from this interview)
- Everything confidential, only seen by research team
- Nothing published in identifiable form unless explicitly allowed
- Start with a broad background question
- “To begin with, tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?”
- Try to establish common ground
- Easier with experience
- Young students are less threatening, though
- Listen to what the other person says
- Steer them back if they wander off topic
- Ask for examples
- If you don’t understand something, ask right away
- Keep time
- End with a question that is a natural ending
- Is there something I should have asked?
- What keeps you awake at night?
- Thank them, say you will send over the notes right away
After the interview
- Do your notes at once. Not an hour later, not after lunch. Now!
- Write them out longhand, write out abbreviations, add in everything you remember.
- Then rewrite like a real interview, including inserting questions (from interview outline) that were never asked, yet answered
- If material is referenced, link to it, perhaps include it.
- When the interview is done, write an executive summary on top, in italics
- Communication to the interviewee what you saw were the high points
- Makes it easier to remember the interview later
- Make it a nice, complete document, then send it off to the interviewee right away, asking for comments
- This shows you are taking the interviewee seriously and trying to get their meaning right
- It gives them a sense of control and achievement
- Archive in a standard format, so you can go back and analyze
And that is how you do a research interview. It is an exhausting process, which is why I don’t think you should do more than three per day.