Chapter 11: Quantitative Interview Techniques & Considerations
11.4 Issues to Consider for All Interview Types
While quantitative interviews resemble survey research in their question/answer formats, similarly to qualitative interviews, the researcher actually interacts with her or his subjects. The fact that the researcher interacts with his or her subjects creates a few complexities that deserve attention. We will examine some of those in the following sections.
First and foremost, interviewers must be aware of and attentive to the power differential between themselves and interview participants. The interviewer sets the agenda and leads the conversation. While qualitative interviewers aim to allow participants to have some control over which or to what extent various topics are discussed, the researcher is in charge (at least that will be the perception of most respondents). As the researcher, you are asking someone to reveal things about themselves that they may not typically share with others. Also, you are generally not reciprocating by revealing much or anything about yourself. All these factors shape the power dynamics of an interview.
A number of excellent pieces have been written dealing with issues of power in research and data collection. An interesting paper by Karniell-Miller, Strier, and Pessach (2009) examines the power relationship from an ethics perspective. As demonstrated in Table 11.1, they draw from decades of research to describe a variety of ways to balance power in research in the three phases of research: before, during and after.
Table 11.1 Balancing the power relationship in research (adapted from Karniell et al., 2009).
|Before the Research||During the Research||After the Research|
|Examine goals & reasons behind study.||Ensure language is tailored to the interviewee’s capabilities & life experiences.||Check & recheck your obligation to ensure study population will not be hurt or negatively impacted by what you publish.|
|Examine personal commitment to ensure no harm to the population under study.||Show awareness of developing power relationship during interview, provide opportunities for feedback or objection from participants regarding research methods, etc.||Do not distort the meaning the participants intend. Make sure that you do not only present the voice of the participant, in addition to your own.|
|Clarify roles, responsibilities & rights of both participant and researcher at the various stages of the research project.||Provide reminders about the nature of the study & publication if an interviewee begins discussing intimate or sensitive issue.||Protect anonymity of participants.
|Provide information about expected distribution of knowledge derived from study.||Commit to the principle of justice, ensuring the burden of participating does not outweigh the benefits.||Use participants´ own language in writing to best reflect what they wanted to share.|
|Commit to protecting privacy & anonymity.||Research should ensure the right to collect & use the collected data.||Provide thick description of the context, your own (and institutional) experience, values and pressures that play a role in how you interpret & present the data.|
|Use reflexology to be transparent & accountable for the limitations of your methodology.|
However, Karniell-Miller et al., (2009) warn that permitting participants to play a significant role in the research can lead to a variety of ethical challenges, such as the loss of the researcher´s right to intellectual and academic freedom, and/or the oversimplification of theoretical constructs that may arise from the research.
Another way to balance the power differential between yourself and your interview participants is to make the intent of your research very clear to the subjects. Share with them your rationale for conducting the research and the research question(s) that frame your work. Be sure that you also share with subjects how the data you gather will be used and stored. Also, be sure that participants understand how their privacy will be protected including who will have access to the data you gather from them and what procedures, such as using pseudonyms, you will take to protect their identities. Many of these details will be covered by your institutional review board’s informed consent procedures and requirements, but even if they are not, as researchers, we should be attentive to the ways in which sharing information with participants can help balance the power differences between ourselves and those who participate in our research.
As Saylor Academy (2012) observes, when it comes to handling the power differential between the researcher and participants, there are no easy answers and no general agreement as to the best approach for handling the power differential. It is nevertheless an issue for researchers to note when conducting any form of research, particularly those that involve interpersonal interactions and relationships with research participants.
Location, location, location
One way to balance the power between researcher and respondent is to conduct the interview in a location of participants’ choosing, where they will feel most comfortable answering questions. Interviews can take place in any number of locations: respondents’ homes or offices, researchers’ homes or offices, coffee shops, restaurants, public parks, or hotel lobbies, to name just a few possibilities. While it is important to allow respondents to choose the location that is most convenient and comfortable for them, it is also important to identify a location where there will be few distractions. For example, some coffee shops and restaurants are so loud that recording the interview can be a challenge. Other locations may present different sorts of distractions. For example, the presence of children during an interview can be distracting for both the interviewer and the interviewee. On the other hand, the opportunity to observe such interactions could be invaluable to your research (depending upon the topic). As an interviewer, you may want to suggest a few possible locations, and note the goal of avoiding distractions, when you ask your respondents to choose a location.
Of course, the extent to which a respondent should be given complete control over choosing a location must also be balanced by accessibility of the location to you, the interviewer, and by safety and comfort level with the location. While it is important to conduct interviews in a location that is comfortable for respondents, doing so should never come at the expense of your safety.
Finally, a unique feature of interviews is that they require some social interaction, which means that, to at least some extent, a relationship is formed between interviewer and interviewee. While there may be some differences in how the researcher/respondent relationship works, depending on whether your interviews are qualitative or quantitative, one essential relationship element is the same: respect. A good rapport between you and the person you interview is crucial to successful interviewing. Rapport is the sense of connection you establish with a participant. Palys and Atchison (2014) define rapport as the development of a bond of mutual trust between the researcher and the participant. They add that it is the basis upon which access is given to the researcher and valid data are collected.
Saylor Academy (2012) draws attention to the fact that some misguided researchers have attempted to develop rapport with their participants to a level that the participant believes the relationship is closer than it is. She warns against this and suggests that the key is respect. At its core, the interview interaction should not differ from any other social interaction in which you show gratitude for a person’s time and respect for a person’s humanity. It is crucial that you, as the interviewer, conduct the interview in a way that is culturally sensitive. In some cases, this might mean educating yourself about your study population and even receiving some training to help you learn to communicate effectively with your research participants. Do not judge your research participants; you are there to listen to them, and they have been kind enough to give you their time and attention. Even if you disagree strongly with what a participant shares in an interview, your job as the researcher is to gather the information being shared with you, not to make personal judgments about it. A research paper by Ryan and Dundon (2008) provides a variety of strategies for building rapport with the research participants in a respectful manner. Case Research Interviews- Eliciting Superior Quality Data.
The questions you ask respondents should indicate that you have actually heard what they have said. Active listening means that you will probe the respondent for more information from time to time throughout the interview. A probe is a request for more information. Both qualitative and quantitative interviewers probe respondents, though the way they probe usually differs. In quantitative interviews, probing should be uniform. Often quantitative interviewers will predetermine what sorts of probes they will use.
In some ways qualitative interviews better lend themselves to following up with respondents and asking them to explain, describe, or otherwise provide more information. This is because qualitative interviewing techniques are designed to go with the flow and take whatever direction the respondent establishes during the interview. Nevertheless, it is worth your time to come up with helpful probes in advance of an interview, even in the case of a qualitative interview. You certainly do not want to find yourself stumped or speechless after a respondent has just said something about which you’d like to hear more. This is another reason that practicing your interview in advance with people who are similar to those in your sample is a good idea.