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Depth Interviews and Observation


Depth Interviews and Observation

A Versatile Combination

Also referred to as individual interviews, IDI (in-depth interviews), or one-on-one interviews, the depth interview methodology may seem quite straightforward but can take years to do well. Luckily for our efforts, the depth interview is also one of the most accessible types of research: it is simply one person guiding the discussion and asking questions, and the interviewee responds. For this reason, many depth interviews tend to be quite conversational and natural in format, as this will also allow the participant to discuss the topic freely. The truly adept depth interviewers take it a level further, eliciting specific stories and experiences from the participant and using various probes to explore ideas further.

Dr. Kelly Page offers a nicely composed overview of depth interview techniques:

Qualitative Marketing Research - Depth Interviews
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Slide 1: Title

Qualitative Marketing Research – Depth Interviews Week 4 (2) Dr. Kelly Page Cardiff Business School E: T: @drkellypage T: @caseinsights FB:

Slide 2: Summary

  • What Are In-depth Interviews?
  • Applications of Depth Interviews
  • Key Features
  • How Are We To Think Of An In-depth Interview?
  • The Art of a Good Interview
  • Interview Techniques & The Interviewer
  • Managing the Interview
  • Constructing a Discussion Guide
  • Wording Questions
  • Types of Probes
  • Tape-Recorded Interviews
  • Transcribing Interviews
  • In-depth Interviews: Advantages & Limitations

Slide 3: What Are In-depth Interviews?

  • An unstructured, direct, personal interview in which a single respondent is questioned and probed by an experienced interviewer to uncover underlying motivations, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings on a topic
    • In-depth interviews aim to explore the complexity and in-process nature of meanings and interpretations that cannot be examined using positivist methodologies.
    • In-depth interviews are more like conversations than structured questionnaires.
    • In-depth interviews stand in  'stark contrast' to structured interviews.

Slide 4: Applications of Depth Interviews

  • Professionals
  • Children
  • Detailed probing
  • Confidential, sensitive, embarrassing topics
  • Avoiding strong social norms
  • Complicated behavior
  • Competitors
  • Sensory Experiences

Slide 5: Key Features

  • A methodology that attempts to be more conversational and engaging, hence requires greater skill and experience.
  • The level of skill required means that it is common for interviews to be conducted by the researchers themselves.
  • It is both inductive and deductive, but often, it is assumed that all relevant questions are not known prior to the research
  • It makes use of some of the assumptions of grounded theory that attempts to build up understandings of general patterns and important issues through the process of interviewing.
  • It can involve a single half-hour interview with each participant, or it may involve several sessions each of two hours duration, or up to twenty-five sessions in some cases.

Slide 6: How Are We To Think Of An In-depth Interview?

  • An in-depth interview is like the half of a very good conversation when we are listening.
  • The focus is on the other person's own, meaning contexts.
  • Good interviewing is achieved out of a fascination with how other people make their lives meaningful and worthwhile.
  • It is this inquisitiveness that motivates the in-depth interviewer who uncovers new and exciting insights.
  • The hardest work for most interviewers is to keep quiet and to ‘listen actively’.
  • One of the most important skills to learn in interviewing is that of keeping silent.

Slide 7: The Art of a Good Interview

Creative interviewing involves the use of many strategies and tactics of interaction, largely based on an understanding of friendly feelings and intimacy, to optimize cooperative, mutual disclosure and a creative search for mutual understanding. (Douglas, 1985: 25)

Slide 8: Interview Techniques

  • Conducting a good in-depth interview is an art that cannot be achieved by following rules. But, there are many skills, rules of thumb and practical guidelines which may facilitate a good interview.
  • Its all about ‘experience’:
    • People often say things like: “My experience is very different to other people’s and may not interest you”, etc.
    • Researchers need to reassure the participants that they are OK and their experiences, whatever it may be, is what we are interested in.
    • You may say: “We are interested in everyone’s experience of having a baby”, or “We think your experience of … is quite common and we are interested in our story”.

Slide 9: The Interviewer

  • Some argue that interviewers should be of similar age, gender, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation to the people being interviewed.
  • This is not necessarily the case. But, in some cases, it may be appropriate to select particular types of interviewers.
    • E.g., in a study of living with HIV/AIDS, the gender of the interviewer may not be important if the interview focuses on working life.
    • But, it would be more appropriate for a woman to interview another woman about complications during her pregnancy rather than a male interviewer.

Slide 10: Managing the Interview (1)

  • Once, a sampling strategy has been decided upon, there are things to be considered.
  • Introductions:
    • Having someone introduce you is very helpful. If someone the participant trusts introduces you, the process of gaining their trust will have been already begun.
  • Permissions:
    • It may be essential to obtain permission from formal or informal gatekeepers.
    • A database of participants can be very useful to ensure that all the appropriate phone calls and confirmations have been completed.
  • Time:
    • In-depth interviewing typically requires a relatively large investment of time and energy in recruiting participants and arranging the interview.

Slide 11: Managing the Interview (2)

  • Location:
    • Deciding where to conduct the interview can be difficult. Most people will feel more comfortable and relaxed in their own homes.
  • Conduct:
    • When the researcher actually arrives at the interview, you need to settle into the interview location and wait until the participant is ready.
    • Do not leave immediately soon after the interview is finished. Hang around for a cup of tea or chat is a good strategy. It makes the participant feel that you are really interested in his/her story.
  • After an interview:
    • It is important for the researcher to have an opportunity to debrief with someone else working on the project, or familiar with the issues dealt with in the project.
    • This is particularly important when the topic deals with sensitive or emotionally charged issues.

Slide 12: Constructing a Discussion Guide

  • Although the in-depth interviews are 'open' and often exploratory, a discussion guide, theme list or inventory of important topics is typically used.
  • Discussion guides are best kept to one-two pages. This ensures that it can be referred to without having to flip too many pages over, which can be very distracting.
  • It may also be appropriate to use a separate theme list for each interview. The theme list is a useful place to take notes and record questions that should be returned to later in the interview.
  • At the beginning of the interviews, explain the purpose of the interview and emphasis that we are interested in their story, that they are the expert.
  • Try to stress that the criteria for what is important or relevant are what the participant thinks is important.

Slide 13: Wording Questions

  • While questions are not prescribed beforehand, the general topics and themes of the interview are typically already decided upon.
  • Dialogue is best enabled through a questioning strategy they describe as 'no-knowing’. Understanding is best gained through questions born of a genuine curiosity for that which is 'not-known' about that which has just been said.
  • Questions should be open-ended.
  • Questions that are best avoided include those that appear as if they are a test of knowledge.
    • Try not to ask questions that begin 'what do you know about this?
  • Rather, start with questions that invite people to share.
    • Such as: 'Tell me about that'.
  • It is also a good idea to avoid technical phrases.

Slide 14: Types of Probes

  • Elaboration probes - ask for more detail:
    • 'Can you tell me a little more about that?'
    • 'What did she say to you?’
  • Continuation probes - encourage the participant to keep talking:
    • 'Go on.‘ or 'What happened then?'
    • Body language such as a raised eyebrow can also serve as a probe.
  • Clarification probes - aim to resolve ambiguities or confusions about meaning:
    • 'I'm not sure I understand what you mean by that.''
    • 'Do you mean you saw her do that?‘
  • Attention probes - indicate that the interviewer is paying attention to what is being said:
    • 'That's really interesting.‘ or 'I see.'

Slide 15: Types of Probes

  • Completion probes - encourage to finish a particular line of thought:
    • 'You said that you spoke to him, what happened then?'
    • 'Are you suggesting there was some reason for that?’
  • Evidence - seek to identify how sure a person is of their interpretation, and should be used carefully:
    • 'How certain are you that things happened in that order?'
    • 'How likely is it that you might change your opinion on that?’
  • Participants often laugh in response to nervousness or ambiguity rather than simply because something is funny. If this is the case, laughter is often a good cue for a probe or further exploration

Slide 16: Closing the Interview

  • Toward the end of interviews, it may be worthwhile to reflect back to the participant some of the main themes of the interview, to check that the interviewer has understood the main responses and interpretations that have been described.
  • At the very end of an interview, we always ask the participant if there is anything else that they think is important in understanding the issue under discussion that has not already been covered.
  • This question sometimes produces surprising results suggesting a completely different approach to an issue or problem.
  • The key to asking questions during in-depth interviewing is to let them follow, as much as possible, from what the participant is saying.
  • Theme lists should not so much direct questions, as remind interviewers of the topics that need to be covered.

Slide 17: Tape-Recorded Interviews

  • Practically, the interview must be taped so that we may capture what the participant says in-depth.
  • The recording of the interview must be with the consent of the participant.
  • Make sure that the tape and microphone are working.
  • Bring extra cassettes and batteries.
  • Quote:

 I always try and use a tape-recorder, for some very pragmatic reasons: I want to interact with the interviewee, and I don’t want to spend a lot of my time head-down and writing. Also, the tape provides me with a much more detailed record of our verbal interaction than any amount of note taking or reflection could offer.  (Rapley, 2004: 18)

Slide 18: Transcribing Interviews

  • All interviews must be transcribed for data analysis.
  • The careful attention to the tape required during transcription sensitizes the interviewer to ways in which they could have asked questions differently or to cues that were missed.
  • Often, all conversations in the interview will be transcribed.
  • Researchers may want to include things like the length of pauses, other sounds like laughter or even ‘um’.
  • An indication of who is speaking is necessary, e.g., the researcher, the participants, family member (if present), etc.
  • Transcripts need to be checked through to ensure that technical terms and difficult areas have been correctly transcribed.

Slide 19: In-depth Interviews: Advantages

  • In-depth interviews are an excellent way of discovering the subjective meanings and interpretations that people give to their experiences.
  • In-depth interviews allow aspects of social life, such as social processes and negotiated interactions, to be studied that could not be studied in any other way.
  • While it is important to examine pre-existing theory, in-depth interviews allow new understandings and theories to be developed during the research process, particularly grounded theory.
  • People's responses are less influenced by the direct presence of their peers during in-depth interviews.
  • People generally find the experience rewarding.

Slide 20: In-Depth Interviews: Limitations

  • Investment:
    • In-depth interviewing requires considerable investments of time, money and energy.
    • This investment needs to weighed against the research problem and goals.
  • Evolution
    • Understandings and experiences are developed from interview to interview.
    • By comparison, new ideas can be responded to immediately by all other participants in a focus group.
  • Skills
    • In-depth interviewing is difficult to do well.
    • It requires persistence and sensitivity to the complexities of interpersonal interaction.
    • It may not always be appropriate to delegate the task of interviewing to research assistants.

Slide 21: Summary Slide

  • What Are In-depth Interviews?
  • Applications of Depth Interviews
  • Key Features
  • How Are We To Think Of An In-depth Interview?
  • The Art of a Good Interview
  • Interview Techniques & The Interviewer
  • Managing the Interview
  • Constructing a Discussion Guide
  • Wording Questions
  • Types of Probes
  • Tape-Recorded Interviews
  • Transcribing Interviews
  • In-depth Interviews: Advantages & Limitations

Slide 22: Licensing information

The content of this work is of shared interest between the author, Kelly Page and other parties who have contributed and/or provided support for the generation of the content detailed within. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales. Kelly Page (cc)

Credit: Kelly Page, Cardiff Business School

There are a few additions and points of emphasis I would make to the slides:

  • Natural conversation is essential. For this reason, you want to practice the same cues you would in any engaged conversation: eye contact and active listening. Furiously jotting notes or reading questions do nothing but reinforce it as an interview, and not a conversation, and your findings may suffer.
  • Be a great listener. The best interviewers use the fewest words and are incredibly nonbiasing. They do not "color comment" or prod the interview along. I can tell you I have conducted 1.5 hour interviews with participants and probably uttered no more than a paragraph of words after the initial introductions.
  • Stories are extremely valuable. If we are interviewing someone about their experiences using a prototype, you want to hear short stories about their experiences. Hearing "I had a little bit of trouble with the instructions" is good, but hearing a participant specifically discuss how the instructions gave them trouble is the goal.
  • Interviewer similarity. I very much tend to fall on the side of dissimilar interviewers, unless the topic is highly sensitive. Some of the most compelling interviews I have ever witnessed or taken part in were people being interviewed on topics of which the interviewer had no knowledge or experience. Vegetarians interviewing people about their thoughts and feelings on a steakhouse concept. A 20-something Venezuelan woman interviewing men about the baseball experience and relationships with their fathers. Why does it work? Because the participant assumes the interviewer knows nothing and assumes nothing. This is a recipe for an excellent interview, as we can gain an understanding of the entire experience.
  • Be playful. Again, bring a childlike curiosity and assume nothing. Have fun. What you will many times realize is the meaning you assumed the participant would have for a very basic concept or response was very different than yours.
  • Avoid interviewing from behind a desk. Tactically, the office desk interview is challenging: there are distractions and interruptions, they are in a place of total comfort (and power), and the body positioning is adversarial instead of conversational. You want to either walk/sit alongside the participant, or sit at a 90 degree angle. Sitting facing each other tends to feel forced and more like a job interview than a conversation.
  • Transcription. If you are serious about doing analysis, don't rely on notes, have a transcript made. I would strongly recommend against trying to type it yourself, as even the professionals can't type fast enough to keep up with the speed of speaking, so there is significant fast forwarding and rewinding (they use foot pedals). The easiest way? The upper levels of voice recognition software (less than $300) usually allow you to load an MP3 and create a transcript in a few minutes directly from the audio file. Bear in mind, it won't have paragraphs or perfect punctuation, but it does an exceptionally good job of capturing the words in a very fast and cost effective way.
  • Skype. Face-to-face depth interviews involve traveling to the locations, or setting up multiple interviews in one location, but Skype or other video conferencing suites can be an excellent option. Participants do not need to leave their home or office, and you do not have to travel to different locations. Does it offer the full experience of being physically present? No, it does not... but it's also significantly less expensive and more efficient.

Pairing Observation with Depth Interviews

Observing the participant interacting with or reacting to a concept can be an invaluable way to gain unfiltered insights. While observation may be conducted as a methodology by itself or paired with many other research techniques, it is especially potent when paired with depth interviews. This potency comes from the fact that the interviewer may first depth interview the participant on the topic or offering category, learning about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings. After understanding the participant's thoughts and feelings about the general topic, they may then be exposed to the offering or prototype being tested to provide full feedback.

There are three major types of observation you will most commonly see when researching early-phase concepts or offerings:

Covert Observation.

Covert observation is exactly as it sounds: You are observing a behavior or interaction without the participant knowing it, either by camera or by blending into the surroundings in a public space. Only after you have observed the behavior fully do you reveal to the participants that you have been observing them.

In practice, covert observation tends to be limited to occasions when you can actually locate a camera somewhere to see how a group of participants might interact with a machine, for example. In a sense, proposition and message testing acts as a form of covert observation in that you are watching online behaviors, preferences, and analytics to create your findings.

Overt Observation - Detached.

Detached overt observation is similar to covert observation with the exception that you let the participant know you will be observing them, and then retreat to a detached vantage point to watch their behaviors. Overt detached tends to be a bit limiting in that participants may act a bit differently if they know they are being watched or recorded from afar, especially if they are the only participant.

Overt Observation - Narrative.

Also sometimes referred to as "side-by-side" observation, this is when you not only tell the participant you will be watching them, but when you stay just behind them or by their side and ask them to narrate the experience. This is especially potent in usability or refinement studies, where participants may first try to interact with the product in an unguided way, then asking the researcher questions afterward. If they are operating from an "insight mindset," overt narrative observation is especially beneficial for designers and those most involved in the offering, as it allows them to see the experience through the eyes of the participant.

Much of the value of the pairing of depth interviews with observational research is that it provides the researcher with a frame of reference for the participants' experiences from which to better understand the observational portion. For example, if the participant talked about their electrical engineering degree and expertise in solar energy in the depth interview, and then had trouble understanding and interacting with the solar controller offering being observed, that should stand as a significant warning sign that an experienced lead user is having trouble understanding the product. If only using the observational research, one could think that the older gentleman was just not technologically savvy or otherwise try to fabricate some backstory to explain their trouble interacting with the offering.

Five word summary - Flexible and illuminating if done well