10 INTERVIEWS AS DATA COLLECTION TOOLS
Surveys are also conducted through interviews. Interviews basically consist of asking questions, listening to
individuals and recording their responses. At times, you may find it more profitable to ask questions to a few
individuals instead of carrying out a large-scale questionnaire based survey.
The interview can be done very informally, e.g. as conversations with people met in the fields, co-operative stores or block offices. In these settings, one question leads to the next based on the responses given to the previous one.
At the other end of the scale, highly structured interviews often rely on questionnaires or interview schedules with mostly closed-ended questions that allow the respondents only a limited range of possible answers.
In between these extremes are in-depth interviews and focused group discussions where questions on a given topic(s) are asked to probe and stimulate the respondents to think rather than just give quick answers.
Depending on whether you are more formal or less formal, the interview technique used by you may fall under one of the four types:
Structured interviews are built around an already prepared interview schedule. You ask the questions as they appear in the schedule, and also record the answers. You are, however, expected to provide explanations, wherever necessary, to clarify the questions. You may also do some probing and ask the respondent to explain the answers, if found vague.
When the answers to a question are in the form of alternatives as given in the following example, you either read these out or hand over a card on which these are printed, and ask the respondent to choose the one which is appropriate in his or her opinion.
Q. If you donít take bath daily, what could be your reasons :-
1. I donít find time
2. There is scarcity of water
3. Have to fetch water from a long distance
4. Lack of privacy for taking bath
5. Any other reason
Through prompting, you can make sure that the respondent has fully considered all possibilities before replying to the question.
This is good for getting information about prevalence and distribution of an issue from large numbers of people and the resulting data are quantitative. The interview can be completed rapidly in the field, and less skill in required on the part of the interviewers in such cases.
At the same time, much skill is needed to create the questionnaire or interview schedule. It requires much time for pre-testing of the questionnaire, and also training the field staff. Highly structured questionnaires yield little insight into how people feel about the issues involved.
Semi-structured interview provides greater scope for discussion and learning about the problem, opinions and views of the respondents. While there are some fairly specific questions (closed questions) in the interview schedule, each of which may be probed or prompted, there are lot more questions which are completely open-ended. The latter questions mainly serve to explore different facets of the issue. The information thus collected is both qualitative and quantitative
|The structured and semi-structured interview methods allow you greater control over the sample of respondents. You continue and carry on until a fairly representative sample has been covered. Between the two methods, semi-structured interview method being less formal is a better way of catching the point of view of the people, and getting inside information. One can revise questions, if needed, during the process of data collection.|
However, great sensitivity and skill is required of you.
It is important that you do not introduce bias, and influence quality and content of information as a
result of your close interaction with the respondents, nor you are diverted from the original purpose of
It is much less formal than the semi-structured interview. While you have structured some basic questions on paper, the discussion on the issue is largely free- ranging.
When you intend to collect complex information, containing a high proportion of opinions, attitudes and personal experiences of the respondents, you go in for in-depth interview. As a technique, this is more popular in audience research.
For an in-depth interview, the sample in kept small. Only a few
purposively selected people are subjected to a detailed interview. For
example, you may want to know why farmers are not able to adopt
new varieties and improved practices of cultivation for their crops and grow new
crops. It may be profitable to find out what farmers know about how specific
crops grow in a particular environment, what the key problems in obtaining high
yields are, what they have done to solve these problems, what experiments they
have conducted themselves and what they have found etc.
For better results precede the in-depth interview by a more general information gathering and observation
exercise. This will provide you the necessary background, from which it would be possible for you to identify
critical areas, which are to be pursued in greater depth.
Conducting an in-depth interview, however, requires more effort and skill on your part. There will be greater need for you to repeatedly come back to the point, keep the discussion moving in the direction consistent with the original purpose of collecting information and record the information in an objective and logical manner. Over enthusiasm and less caution can generate enormous data, which may be later difficult to organize and analyse.
Focused Group Discussion
|In all the three types of interviews mentioned above, the individual constitutes the unit of response. Most often the researchers|
| choose the heads of households or village headmen for the purpose of interview. It
biases the data to the views of one individual in a
family or a few in a village and ignores the views of
Moreover, the individuals when removed from the dynamic interactive relationships among themselves may not come out completely and truly with strangers. The respondents also try to please the interviewer and say what the interviewer likes to listen.
These limitations can be overcome to a great extent by supplementing interviews with group discussions.
|Group discussions are quite simply in-depth interviews carried out with a group of people rather than with individuals. It could|
be a large group (such as
community meetings), a small focused group representing a particular background and interest (such as
marginal farmers) or a natural group (such as talking with women while waiting in line at the well)
The advantage with group discussions is that information from one individual can be cross checked with others and more than one opinion gathered. As already mentioned, it removes the bias of individual views. In a group situation, members are prone to be open, and what they say may be in the prevailing socio-cultural context. Group interaction enriches the quality and quantity of information needed. These are quite good at disclosing the range and nature of problems, as well as eliciting preliminary ideas about solutions.
However, the disadvantage is that when multiple opinions arise in a group discussion, it can be difficult for the researcher to determine as to which ones are right. You can limit this by arranging a series of small focused group discussions. Each group represents people from a particular socio-economic background and interest, instead of a mixed large group comprising general audiences
Still your task is difficult while conducting a group discussion. The following guidelines will help you conduct group discussions effectively:-
In the end, group discussion should result in an educational process. It should be as much a learning experience
for the participants as for you. They should feel liberated and empowered after the event.
Though more exerting, in-depth interviews and focused group discussions can prove useful in producing detailed understanding of particular issues confronting the audience.
Strengths of Interviews
Interviews make it possible to collect complete information from the different
categories of sample. Assuming that sampling was done properly, this can ensure a
fair degree of validity of information.
You have more control over the flow and sequence of questions. It is sometimes important to ask a
particular question after some other questions have been answered. With questionnaire it is impossible to
prevent respondents looking ahead to see what is coming, and shaping their responses in the light of that.
You are in a position to introduce necessary changes in the interview schedule after the initial results. This is not possible in the case of a questionnaire survey.
Limitations of Interviews
It is rather difficult to analyze data obtained through interviews, especially when
there is more qualitative data in response to open-ended questions.
Hints in Conducting Interviews
Design the interview schedule carefully with regard to the flow and sequence of questions. Write the questions in spoken, simple language. The early questions should be easy to answer and should aim to put the respondent at ease.
Always pre-test, and pilot-test the interview schedule before finalizing it.
Arrange orientation of the interviewers about the nature of the study, intent of the questions, and administration of the questions, including probing and prompting and recording of responses before sending them in the field for creating common understanding and approach to the study.
Use of a tape-recorder during focused group discussion will
be a useful aid. If this is not possible, more than one interviewer
may be present so that at least one person is there to record
In certain situations, it may be profitable for you to collect information through observation alone or in combination with in-depth interviews and group discussions. The next chapter presents a discussion on observation as a method for information gathering. Interviews as Data Collection Tools Test the interview schedule before finalising it