The outcome of a qualitative in-depth interview (IDI) study, regardless of mode, is greatly affected by the interviewer’s conscious or unconscious influence within the context of the IDIs—that is, the absence or presence of interviewer bias. The interviewer’s demographic characteristics (e.g., age, race), physical appearance in face-to-face IDIs (e.g., manner of dress), voice in face-to-face and telephone IDIs (e.g., a regional accent), and personal values or presumptions are all potential triggers that may elicit false or inaccurate responses from interviewees. For example, imagine that an IDI study is being conducted with a group of public school teachers who are known to harbor negative feelings toward the district’s superintendent but who express ambivalent attitudes in the interviews as the result of the interviewers’ inappropriate interjection of their own personal positive opinions. In this way, the interviewers have caused the findings to be biased. In order to minimize this potential source of distortion in the data, the researcher can incorporate a number of quality enhancement measures into the IDI study design and interview protocol:
The IDI researcher should conduct a pretest phase during which each interviewer practices the interview and learns to anticipate what Sands and Krumer-Nevo (2006) call “master narratives” (i.e., the interviewer’s own predispositions) as well as “shocks” that may emerge from interviewees’ responses. Such an awareness of one’s own predispositions as an interviewer and possible responses from interviewees that might otherwise “jolt” the interviewer will more likely facilitate an uninterrupted interview that can smoothly diverge into other appropriate lines of questioning when the time presents itself. In this manner, the interviewer can build and maintain strong rapport with the interviewee as well as anticipate areas within the interview that might bias the outcome.
For example, Sands and Krumer-Nevo (2006) relate the story of a particular interview in a study among youth who, prior to the study, had been involved in drug use and other criminal behavior. Yami, the interviewer, approached one of the interviews with certain assumptions concerning the interviewee’s educational background and, specifically, the idea that a low-level education most likely contributed to the youth’s illicit activities. Because of these stereotypical expectations, Yami entered the interview with the goal of linking the interviewee’s “past school failures” to his current behavior and was not prepared for a line of questioning that was not aimed at making this connection. As a result Read Full Text
A challenge to any research design is the pesky issue of bias or the potential distortion of research outcomes due to unintended influences from the researcher as well as research participants. This is a particularly critical issue in qualitative research where interviewers (and moderators) take extraordinary efforts to establish strong relationships with their interviewees (and group participants) in order to delve deeply into the subject matter. The importance of considering the implications from undo prejudices in qualitative research was discussed in the April 2011 Research Design Review post, “Visual Cues & Bias in Qualitative Research,” which emphasized that “there is clearly much more effort that needs to be made on this issue.” Reflexivity and, specifically, the reflexive journal is one such effort that addresses the distortions or preconceptions researchers unwittingly introduce in their qualitative designs.
Reflexivity is an important concept because it is directed at the greatest underlying threat to the validity of our qualitative research outcomes – that is, the social interaction component of the interviewer-interviewee relationship, or, what Steinar Kvale called, “the asymmetrical power relations of the research interviewer and the interviewed subject” (see “Dialogue as Oppression and Interview Research,” 2002). The act of reflection Read Full Text