Tips for Interviewing

How to Probe

“The key to successful interviewing is learning how to probe effectively……that is, to stimulate an informant to produce more information…without injecting yourself so much into the interaction that you only get a reflection of yourself in the data.” (Bernard, 1995)

Silent Probe

Just remain silent and wait for the informant to volunteer more information. Maybe you will be finishing off writing down what he/ she says or perhaps you will be looking very attentively and saying nothing. It is thought that this latter technique can actually provoke new thinking.

Echo Probe

Simply repeat the last thing an informant said and ask them to continue (Giddensohn).

Affirmative Probe

Encourage the participant to continue with a narrative by making affirmative noises: “Uh-huh,” “yes, I see,” “right, uh-huh” (Ibid).

Such probes are linked to the concept of ‘exquisite listening’. By providing your undivided attention to the interviewee and not interrupting them or filling any pauses, you can, according to Nancy Kline, create a ‘Thinking Environment’ and actually generate ideas that might otherwise have remained locked away. See Time to Think and More Time to Think for more information.

How to Transcribe Interviews

The hardest part is indeed transcribing interviews. Sometimes it is easier just to take notes during the interviews and write these up – it can save you hours.

  • Avoid a dictaphone where the subject matter is sensitive, the interviewee is nervous/ worried about being recorded or, in some cases, if you know that you are not going to have time to transcribe a recording.
  • Once you have some kind of write-up of your recorded interviews or hand-written notes, you need to decide which bits of this information is useful to your M&E process and/ or to your report to donors.
  • Questions about ‘what went well’ should provide data on outputs and outcomes as well as activities that have served the overall goal of your project/ project. This section may provide quotations and testimonials that can, with proper consent, be used on your NGO website or literature.
  • Questions on what could have been done better should inform any section of your report to the donor on lesson learning and should help to inform changes to your existing projects or thinking on future projects.
  • Use coding in order to group together themes and ideas. Although coding will not be suitable in every case as interviews are subjective.
  • Beware unconscious bias, particularly among NGO staff (who want to say that the project is going/ has gone well) but also among stakeholders and beneficiaries, who believe that you as an interviewer want positive feedback. This bias makes the questions on what could be/ have been done better all the more important as they need not come across as criticism.
  • Check/triangulate to avoid bias. Where are the convergences or divergences?
  • Feedback your findings to beneficiaries, stakeholders and donors.