In-depth Interviews

Towards a Credible In-depth Interview: Building Rapport

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 88-89).

IDI RapportNot unlike the discussion in “Building Rapport & Engagement in the Focus Group Method,” a necessary skill of the in-depth interviewer is the ability to build rapport with the interviewee. Rapport building begins early in the study design and continues through completion of the in-depth interview (IDI). The following are just a few guidelines that IDI interviewers should consider using in order to establish a trusting relationship with their interviewees and maximize the credibility of their outcomes:

  • Regardless of the mode by which the IDIs will be conducted, the interviewer should contact each recruited interviewee on the telephone at least once prior to the scheduled interview to begin establishing rapport. This preliminary conversation helps the interviewer and the interviewee make a personal connection, manage their respective expectations, and facilitate an open dialogue at the interview stage. In addition to building rapport, an early personal exchange with the interviewee also instills legitimacy in the research, which further aids in the interview process and makes the interviewee comfortable in providing detailed, thoughtful, and credible data.
  • The interviewer’s preliminary communication with the interviewee should make clear (a) the purpose of the study and the interviewer’s association with the research; (b) the anticipated length of the study (i.e., a date when the research is expected to be completed); (c) the breadth of the interview (i.e., the range of topics that will be covered); (d) the depth of the interview (i.e., the level of detail that may be requested, either directly or indirectly); (e) the time commitment required of the interviewee (e.g., length of a telephone IDI, the frequency participants are expected to check email messages in an email IDI study); and (f) the material incentive (e.g., cash, a gift card).
  • The interviewer should make a conscious effort to interject a sign of sincere interest in the interviewee’s remarks, but do so in a nonevaluative fashion, without displaying either approval or disapproval with the sentiment being expressed by the interviewee (e.g., “Your comments interest me, please go on”).
  • Particularly in the telephone and online modes, the interviewer must be able to identify and respond to cues in the conversation—for example, the interviewee’s audible hesitations or the background noise in a telephone IDI, or nonresponse from an email participant. The email interviewer also needs to be sensitive to the idea that they may have misjudged the participant’s intent. For instance, Bowker and Tuffin (2004) report on the potential difficulty in judging whether an email IDI participant has more to say on a topic or whether certain questions would be deemed redundant. In either case, these potential miscalculations on the part of the interviewer can interfere with the interviewer–participant relationship, with interview participants providing short retorts, such as, “Yes, that was the end [of my comments]!” (Bowker & Tuffin, 2004, p. 237).
  • With telephone IDIs, the interviewer–interviewee relationship can be enhanced by adding a webcam and/or an online component. The ability to see the interviewee and/or present stimuli to them (e.g., new program service features, promotional concepts, audio and video clips) during the interview takes advantage of the benefits of face-to-face contact.

 

Bowker, N., & Tuffin, K. (2004). Using the online medium for discursive research about people with disabilities. Social Science Computer Review, 22(2), 228–241. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439303262561

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

 

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Research Quality & the Impact of Monetary Incentives

The following is adapted from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 78-79).

Monetary incentives & quality researchGaining cooperation from research participants and respondents is important to the quality of qualitative and survey research. A focus on gaining cooperation helps to mitigate potentially weakened data due to the possibility that the individuals who do not cooperate — do not participate in the research — differ in meaningful ways compared to those who do cooperate. As mentioned in an article posted earlier in Research Design Review, an effective component to the researcher’s strategy for gaining cooperation among participants is the offer of material incentives (e.g., cash, a gift card, prized tickets to a sporting event, donation to a favorite charity).

Although monetary incentives are routinely given to qualitative research participants to boost cooperation, the researcher needs to keep in mind that the offer of a cash (or equivalent) incentive may also jeopardize the quality of the actual focus group discussion, in-depth interview, or observation. The following is one example of how monetary incentives may have the unwanted effect of skewing participants’ responses in an in-depth interview (IDI) study.

Cook and Nunkoosing (2008) conducted an in-person IDI study with 12 “impoverished elders” in Melbourne, Australia to investigate community services for the poor among those “who are excluded or at risk of exclusion from their communities.” Research participants could participate in up to two interviews and were given $20 for each interview.

In reviewing the key findings, the researchers observed many “interview interactions that were atypical.” At least part of these irregularities was attributed to the monetary incentive which, according to Cook and Nunkoosing, helped to create an interview environment where interviewees were motivated “to manage the presentation of self, retain control over the exchange of information, and reduce the stigma of poverty by limiting disclosure and resisting researcher questioning” (p. 421).

The importance of the incentive in the interview process became clear when interviewees volunteered comments such as “I need the $20 . . . ” and critically compared the $20 to better (i.e., higher) cash incentives offered by other research studies. In this way interviewees were in effect “selling” their stories to the interviewer (and, some would say, at a bargain price) which, based on the researchers’ analyses, tainted interviewees’ responses with “stylized accounts” (or “rehearsed narratives”) as well as “minimal disclosure,” as seen in this excerpt from the transcripts (p. 424):
Participant: What did you want to know?
Interviewer: All about you.
Participant: That’s about it, like, there’s not too much.
Interviewer: Do you want to tell me a bit more? I don’t really know who you are yet.
Participant: You do.
Interviewer: Tell me a bit about who you are, what you like, what you don’t like.
Participant: I don’t like him [Gesturing toward the other agency client].

This dialog came towards the end of a 30-minute interview and helps to illustrate “the researcher’s frustration at [their] inability to engage the participant in in-depth discussion” (p. 423).

Research design is always a balancing act involving various trade-offs associated with meeting the key objectives, method(s) and strategy for engaging the target population(s), and the efficient use of available resources. An important researcher skill is understanding the implications of these trade-offs to the integrity of the final data and overall quality of the research investigation. A monetary incentive may be highly effective in securing participation in our research but what is its ultimate impact on data quality? This is the concern of a skilled researcher.

Cook, K., & Nunkoosing, K. (2008). Maintaining dignity and managing stigma in the interview encounter: The challenge of paid-for participation. Qualitative Health Research, 18(3), 418–427. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732307311343

In-depth Interview Data: Achieving Quality From Cooperation

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 75-77)

cooperationAn important aspect related to Scope within the Credibility component of the Total Quality Framework (TQF) for qualitative research design is the extent to which the researcher is successful in gaining cooperation from the participants. In an in-depth interview (IDI) study, the researcher is concerned with the impact that the proportion of selected interviewees not interviewed or only partially interviewed has on the integrity of the data. This is the domain of research that is often termed “nonresponse.” If this proportion is large and/or if the group that is selected but not interviewed differs in meaningful ways from those who are interviewed, bias can infiltrate the final data of an IDI study and compromise the credibility of the research.

To avoid this, qualitative researchers need to give serious a priori thought to how they will gain high and representative levels of cooperation from the persons they have selected to interview, and how individuals who do not cooperate may differ in past experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge compared to interviewees. The researcher must keep in mind that bias may enter into the outcomes, and the credibility of the study’s findings and interpretations thereby weakened, if the characteristics of those in the sample who do not cooperate with an IDI study are correlated with the key topics the study is investigating. Likewise, qualitative researchers using the IDI method should also constantly monitor the representativeness of the group of selected participants that does cooperate and watch whether the characteristics of that group deviate from the characteristics of the target population. This may be difficult in the case of the email IDI (or other asynchronous text-based mode) where the interviewer must stay alert to the consistency of participants’ responses and recognize when the identity of the interviewee may have changed (i.e., someone other than the recruited research participant is the one now responding). For instance, in an email IDI study among Read Full Text