What makes in-depth interviews (IDIs) essential for many research projects is the ability to go beyond the structured, closed-ended nature of traditional surveys, which cannot capture nuance, tone, or voice, nor allow the respondent to address other issues that may be relevant to the study.
Certainly, IDIs are not appropriate nor practical for every type of research project. IDIs are time- and resource-intensive to complete and analyze, and require a significant amount of knowledge on the part of the researcher and/or analyst in order to draw meaningful conclusions.
Indeed, for measuring and capturing broad sentiment across or within segments, large quantitative surveys are more efficient to conduct, and also offer the ability to more easily apply statistical analysis techniques to the data.
Nevertheless, conducting IDIs within a specific segment to understand the motivations and reasons why respondents feel a certain way can provide deeper insights that can augment findings from earlier quantitative surveys.
What are the key elements to consider when conducting IDIs?
· Establish a targeted segment(s). Conducting IDIs without establishing a segmentation plan will make it much more difficult to extract and classify responses. For example, discussing the issue of “pricing” without segmenting the respondents will yield very divergent responses, depending upon the type of respondent (buyer, seller, intermediary, or regulator), length of experience in the market, and business size, among other variables.
· Identify the key insights sought. IDIs are unlikely to yield meaningful insights if the interviewer or researcher is not given direction as to the type and format of information that should be sought. Careful thought and planning is required to figure out which type of information is required, whether or not the target group can provide that information, and the best way to ask for that information. That leads us to the creation of the discussion guide, or roadmap, for the interview.
· Create a discussion guide. A discussion guide should be just that, a guide or plan for the researcher to follow. To be most effective, the guide needs to be structured so that the conversation flows naturally (encouraging the respondent to talk freely), while also being designed to capture the “must have” information earlier, rather than later, in the conversation. The guide is not a strict questionnaire, per se, because the goal is to allow the interviewer the freedom to delve deeper into certain areas, and phrase the questions based on the respondent’s answers. But the goal is to give the interviewer a framework for the interview, so that he or she can keep the discussion on track.
The discussion guide may have optional “questions” or areas for discussion, based on the segments being interviewed. Depending upon the number or variations of segments, it may be useful to create a separate discussion guide for each segment.
· Test the guide. Before interviewing live respondents, it’s important to review and test the guide for timing, flow, and clarity. If the guide jumps from topic to topic without the proper transitions, it will be harder for the respondent to follow, and prohibits jumping back to an earlier question to amplify or clarify a response. Similarly, if the interviewer is unable to elicit detailed responses to the questions in the guide, perhaps the topics are not being adequately presented, and need to be restated for clarity and/or ease of response. This is also the time to check for leading questions, which are queries that lead the respondent to a specific point of view, rather than being open-ended.
· Take it live. Once the adjustments to the guide have been completed, it’s time to schedule the interviews, and then conduct them. Given today’s hectic schedules, much of the IDI work is done via telephone or web conference, rather than in person. Nevertheless, it’s ideal to have two researchers participate (one to facilitate the discussion, and one to record the responses), but failing that, recording (with disclosure) the conversation will suffice. In a free-flowing discussion, you want both parties (interviewer and respondent) fully focused on the conversation, instead of recording or taking notes.
One technique that has worked well to elicit detailed responses is to allow the respondent to veer slightly off-course during the interview. He or she may not be answering a specific question, but I’ve found that many times, respondents have something they want to get off their chests, and until they do, they are not fully focused on the questions. Once they’ve made their point, I use transitional questions to pull them back in line with the guide to refocus the interview.
Next week, we will cover strategies for segmenting respondents, adjusting the discussion guide, and analyzing the results.