Interviews enable you to gather detailed information about people’s attitudes, motivations, beliefs, and perspectives. They also allow you to probe beyond the findings of a survey to explore particular issues in greater depth or seek explanation for any unexpected answers. They can take place in person, over the phone, or using video communication apps such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Here we take you through the different types of interviews, and how to conduct them.
Why use interviews?
- Map out a range of experiences by talking to different people
- In-depth understanding of individual perspectives
- May be easier to handle sensitive topics compared with focus groups (lack of privacy) or surveys (lack of personalisation)
- Time consuming
- Can be intimidating for people who feel
put on the spot
How to conduct an interview
1. Plan your interview
Identify who you want to interview and why
This will depend on why you are conducting the interviews. If you are trying to get a broad sense of the issues encountered when using a service, it may be appropriate to interview a representative sample of users. If you are trying to understand the barriers to using a service, you may wish to increase representation of individuals with particular needs.
Choose your structure
You may want to ask everyone the same specific questions (structured) or explore issues more informally (unstructured). The two approaches can also be combined (semi-structured).
- Questions are asked in a set order and with exact wording
- Interviewers are given detailed instructions on how to ask the questions
- Interview should not take longer than 15 minutes
- Less rigid, designed to draw out more qualitative information
- Questions do not have to follow a pre-determined sequence, and the interviewer can explore answers in greater depth
- Interview can last between one and two hours
Unstructured (or depth) interviews
- Flexible: can be tailored to the individual, enabling the interviewer to cover different areas of interest in each interview
- Interview can last between one and two hours
2. Set up and design your interviews
Interviewers are ideally skilled in interview techniques, and knowledgeable about the field and people they will be interviewing. They must be active listeners and good note-takers. There are advantages and disadvantages to using an interviewer who is familiar to the interviewee; some users may prefer communicating with a person they know, while others may wish to speak to someone who is neutral. It can be helpful to get training for interviewers where possible.
Topic guides for interviewers
A topic guide should outline the questions the interviewer needs to ask, and provide instructions on how to capture feedback, for example.
- Keep your questions simple, focused, and easy to understand. Use non-technical language, and keep sentences short. Avoid words that are open to interpretation; for example, use ‘daily’ or ‘weekly’ rather than ‘often’ or ‘usually’.
- For closed questions, avoid leading questions. These are questions that prompt or encourage a specific answer; for example, ‘How satisfied are you with the service?’.
- For open questions, try to encourage full responses. If the participant’s answer is short, the interviewer can reply with ‘Can you tell me more about that?’ or leave silence for them to elaborate.
- Ask one thing at a time. For example, split ‘Did you find the session helpful and interesting?’ into two questions, because “helpful” and “interesting” are not the same thing.
- Focus on the objectives of your interviews. It can be tempting to take advantage of the opportunity and gather information that is not directly related to your immediate objective. For example, you may want to ask about other aspects of your service, test interest in an event or project, or gauge opinion on a particular issue. This will make your interview longer and less appealing to participants, so think carefully before expanding the focus of your interviews.
Communicate with participants in advance
Confirm the time, how you will conduct your survey (in person, over the phone or online), and the location, where necessary, and share a brief overview of the topics to be discussed. Explain the purpose of the interview and what will be done with the information. You can read more about gaining ‘informed consent’ from participants in our Research, ethics and data protection page.
Consider if you can preserve anonymity
Interviews can be carried out by a trained member of staff, but it can be better to commission an external evaluator or use trained volunteers, particularly when asking for feedback about your service or programme. Respondents will be more likely to give honest answers.
Clarify how you will capture information
You could take notes or record the conversation. Remember that you will need permission to do both of these things before conducting the interview, and there will be data protection implications for the information you collect.
3. Conduct your interview
When introducing the interview:
- Thank the interviewee for their time
- Remind them of the purpose and length of the interview, and any stakeholders involved
- If relevant, ask permission to tape and/or take notes during the interview
- If relevant, assure confidentiality and data protection compliance
During the conversation:
- Remain neutral, but show empathy and respect. Make eye contact and be aware of your body language. Try to build rapport and break down barriers between you and the interviewee.
- Make notes as you go, also capturing non-verbal communication, and seek clarification or probe further if needed.
When bringing the interview to a close:
- Signal that the interview will be ending soon to help you and the interviewee wind down and give the interviewee an opportunity to add anything that may have been missed.
- Clarify key points with the interviewee to check you have correctly interpreted and accurately recorded what they said.
- Let the interviewee know how and when you propose to share the findings of the interview.
- Accept responsibility for taking forward any issues raised. Interviewees may request help on a particular point. You may be able to prepare for this by bringing information about avenues of assistance with you to the interview.
- Thank the interviewee for their time.
Adapted from content from NCVO.
This webpage has been adapted from the Inspiring Impact programme, which ran from 2011 until early 2022 and supported voluntary organisations to improve their impact practice. More information about the Inspiring Impact programme.