Conducting Key Informant Interviews

The advice below draws on the author’s own experience and numerous web sources, not least Europlanet. See also conducting semi-structured interviews.


  1. Decide what information you are looking for and whether semi-structured interviews are best suited to these ends? If you are interested in checking your assumptions or looking to identify attitudes, changes of behaviour and motives on the part of project participants and beneficiaries then key informant interviews; usually semi-structured in nature (with some prepared questions and some freer discussion) are likely to be useful.
  2. Decide who you would like to speak to and let them know this well in advance by letter, email, text or word of mouth. Obvious interviewees include beneficiaries, stakeholders and participants. Less obvious interviewees include donors and even your own colleagues involved in delivering a project. You are regularly in touch with all these people on an informal basis. Why not ask them for an interview?
  3. Remember that particular care is needed when you plan to interview children or vulnerable adults: see ethical guidelines. You may wish to stress that the interview is anonymous, confidential and only attributable with the consent of interviewees.
  4. Let interviewees know in advance the purpose, format and venue of the interview. If requested, provide a list of possible questions.
  5. Ensure that the venue is accessible, relatively comfortable (e.g. in the shade if outdoors) and private (interviewees will open up more in such environments) but not too private (e.g behind a locked door) as that can also intimidate some interviewees. Outdoor interviews can attract attention from other members of the village: is this likely to be a source of distraction or could it engage more interviewees?
  6. Prepare your list of questions. Click here for a list of types of interview questions. Some of these will usually be set questions (what is going well with the project? what could be improved and how?). Others will be tailored to specific interviewees. There would, for example, be little point asking an African schoolboy about the politics of the region. He could, however, provide valuable insights into questions of local schooling and family life.
  7. Bring a pad of paper and a pen. Alternatively, you may use a dictaphone, mobile phone or iPad recorder. But remember that this will mean a lot of transcription later. It may also inhibit freedom of expression or may lead to requests from interviewees or villagers that detract from your goals (can you take photos of the villagers? Can you show them how the IPAD works? etc).
  8. If appropriate, arrange for an interpreter to be present at the right time and venue and have enough local currency with you to pay him/ her. Keep on good terms with this interpreter as you will need his/ her help with transcription and potentially future interviews.


  1. Start by explaining/ reiterating the purpose of the interview, checking that you have informed consent, indicating how long it should take and pointing out that you will stop at any time if the interviewee feels uncomfortable.
  2. Begin with an open question then use both open and closed questions, including how and why questions and even ‘on a scale of 1 to 10 type questions’ which are really the domain of surveys. Remember:
  • Do not launch straight into your questions
  • Establish a rapport
  • Acknowledge your cultural ignorance
  • Try not to interrupt if the interviewee wants to talk about a particular topic of interest to him/ her
  • Ideally, introduce a few words from the local language into your questions
  • Consider whether you should really need to use a dictaphone. This helps you collect verbatim quotes. However, technically, you need informed written consent for any interview and a dictaphone formalises this process and makes it harder for interviewees to speak freely

3. Once you have asked your core questions, be flexible and think on your feet. You have your interviewee in front of you and he/she will have a view on at least some aspect of the project? Try to get some kind of useful insights or comments from every interviewee. After all, everyone is different and has a right to be heard. How can you probe for answers? click here for tips.

4. Ask if your interviewee thinks that you have forgotten something. Is there anything you haven’t asked about that you should have? Ask who else you should speak to. This is a technique known as snowballing and can generate further interviews. But your time in the field may be limited so listen carefully as to why such interviewees might be useful. Ask for contact details (email or more usefully mobile phone number)


  1. Write up (or transcribe) your interview: click here for tips. This may require the help of your interpreter. You may also ask a colleague to help with the time-consuming business of transcription.
  2. Read through the interview data (along with other interview write-ups/ transcripts). Look at the answers to your core questions on what is going well, what could be improved, how have attitudes or behaviours changes, was the project right to assume X or Y. Coding techniques may be used but only if you are confident with these.
  3. Start to input this data into your evaluation or annual report. Some of the material may just help you understand the project and report back on softer variables (increased feelings of security, happiness, renewed sense of community). Look out for nuggets that help you with your evaluation/ indicators.
  4. Finally, look for inconsistencies in your interview data. Can these be explained by further interviews or investigation? That s sometimes called a process of triangulation or checking using more than one research method.
  5. Also, look out for evidence that your assumptions may be wrong and that your project may not be working or may even be doing harm. This kind of data, especially if confirmed by successive interviews or other investigative methods (e.g. surveys/ focus groups), is sometimes hard to take but remember that there is often time to change course, alter your assumptions and/or potentially revise your theory of change. You may need to let your funders know of course but such findings are not the end of the world and may help others better target their interventions.
  6. Note that the whole interviewing process will be a lot easier if you speak at least to some extent the local languages. Local translators and interpreters can change the sense of your questions or interviewers’ answers. Or they may translate over-literally. If you understand the local language, you may wish to leave trickier passages untranslated until you know how/ whether the text may be useful.
Useful Findings

Here are some examples:

Assumptions: Our first assumption was confirmed by two villagers who claimed in interviews that access to drinking water is now the main concern of herders.

Outcomes: Evidence was cited by interviewee X that schoolchildren now systematically wash their hands before lunch in the canteen.

Impact- In interviews, two local farmers reported that, as a direct result of the new techniques they have learned from this project, this is the first year that they have not had to throw away up to half their crop because of locust infestation.

Tips for Interviewing

For tips on how to probe during interviews and how to transcribe your interviews, click here. For further guidance, see USAID.