Community Interviews

This section covers community interviews while the section below discusses conversational interviews.

These involve one or more interviewer-facilitator engaging with a local community (perhaps up to 20 or even 25 people) for between one and two hours.

They are much less common than semi-structured interviews. They have elements in common with focus groups. They provide a useful snapshot of a local community’s attitude towards a particular project and probably best reserved for key moments such as the launch of the project itself or the restution of the evaluation.

They are usually open to all community members. The interviewer often follows a carefully prepared questionnaire.

Provide quick overview of attitude, reaction, motivesof entire village or local communityLarge groups can be hard to manage
Can be useful in identifying potential individual interviewees or individuals with whom the MSC technique can be tried outDanger that dominant voices crowd out more considered views  
If handled well, a community interview can engender a positive community attitude towards a projectCan lead to groupthink and entrench prejudices against your project. Higher risk than one-to-one interviews

How to conduct community interviews


  1. Decide what information you are looking for and whether community interviews are best suited to these ends? If you are interested in checking your assumptions or getting a quick snapshot of the attitudes, changes of behaviour and motives on the part of project participants and beneficiaries then community interviews are likely to be useful.
  2. Decide who you need to speak to (local elders or officials, respected matriarchal community figures, large landowners) in order to ensure that the local community turns up en masse).
  3. Let interviewees know in advance the purpose, format and venue of the interview. If requested, provide a list of possible questions. Ensure that the venue is accessible, relatively comfortable (e.g. in the shade if outdoors)
  4. Prepare your list of 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 villages or segments of a community (e.g. officials, teachers, mothers, children, elders, religious leaders, health workers).
  5. Bring a pad of paper and a pen. Alternatively, you may use a dictaphone (assuming a microphone s passed round), mobile phone or iPad recorder. But remember that will mean a lot of transcription later. With community interviews, it is often best to ask a colleague to act as your assistant and take copious notes of what is said as well as of non-verbal signs (sighs, laughter, applause).
  6. 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 your community interview by explaining/ reiterating the purpose of the interview, indicating how long it should take and pointing out that you will stop at any time if the anyone feels uncomfortable (e.g, due to the heat or because of hostile reactions from other members of the community).  
  2. Begin with an open question then use both open and closed questions. You could start by asking ‘How do you feel the project on … is going? Or does anyone have any general comments about the challenges/ problems facing this community?’
  3. Once you have asked your core questions, be flexible and think on your feet. You have an entire village in front of you and there will be diverse views on your project? Try to get some kind of useful insights or comments from as much of the audience as you can.
  4. Ask if your interviewees think that there is anything you haven’t asked about that you should have? Ask who else you should speak to in other villages or the government or elsewhere.


  1. Write up or transcribe your interview. 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. Coding techniques may be used if you are confident with this approach.
  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 anything that may help you with your evaluation/ indicators. For example:
  • Assumptions:  Our first assumption was confirmed by two villagers who claimed in community interviews that access to drinking water is now the main concern of herders.
  • Outcomes:  Evidence was cited by one member of the community that schoolchildren now systematically wash their hands before lunch in the canteen.
  • Impact: In a community interview, two people 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.

Finally, look for inconsistencies in your interview data. Can these be explained by further interviews or investigation? That is sometimes called a process of triangulation or checking using more than one research method.

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 potentially revise your theory of change. You may need to let your funders know, but such findings are not the end of the world and may help others better target their interventions.

Conversational interviews/ beneficiary assessment

Conversational interviews are the bedrock of beneficiary assessment, a technique promoted by the World Bank which involves giving voice to project beneficiaries by consulting and listening to their views systematically. Other forms of consultation include focus group surveys and participant observation

These interviewers are freer than the other ones described, although still revolving around broad themes associated with actual or planned project activities.

Conducted in natural settings, lasting up to 45 minutes, these interviews try to get to grips with people’s real feelings and thoughts. Interviewers should start by striking up a rapport with interviewees, take only minimal notes during the interview so as not to interrupt the flow. They do, however, write the notes up fully immediately after the interview.

For more details, see: Salmen, Lawrence F., 1995, Beneficiary assessmentan approach described

Provides rich quality personal data and narrativesNot always easy to create the right conditions or strike the right rapport
Offers voice to disempowered and vulnerableInterviews can easily veer completely off-topic and interviewers can struggle to write them up

How to Conduct Conversational Interviews

See how to conduct semi-structured interviews. The difference here is that your questions are not set in stone and you are asking much more open questions and taking only minimal notes at the time of the interview. Recording devices may be used but can discourage free conversational style.

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