We've talked about the big picture when it comes to audience analysis in our last blog post. Today, it's time to get into the weeds with practical strategies for interviewing audience members effectively.
Interviews are one of the most common forms of qualitative data gathering used in learning and development. With digital tools, they can be a very cost friendly solution.
You want to use your time with participants to get as many useful insights as possible. Let's talk about how to do that.
Before the Interview
Do a little research. This is the step most people forget. While you don't want to let previous information lead you to make assumptions, you do want to have a baseline of knowledge about the audience so you can ask meaningful questions.
Draft a guide. Not a script -- a guide. While you will have some questions you want to ask all participants, reading off a script can feel very robotic and affect the answers you get from your participant. We recommend having the purpose of the interview along with clusters of questions you can pull from documented on the guide.
At the Start of the Interview
Introduce yourself. Kick off the conversation with just one or two sentences about who you are and how you came to be the person conducting the interview. Then, leave space for each person to briefly introduce themselves. At the most basic level, you can ask them to share: their name, their job title, and how long they've been with the organization. This information can provide context for their responses or prompt follow up questions later.
Share the purpose. People want to make sure they're using their time wisely, and sharing the "why" can help to make them feel that they are being valued and their contributions have value. It also sets the tone for the interview and helps to focus responses. Without the why, you may get interesting insights that do not offer clarity.
Set the stage. Let them know how long the interview will be and how they can respond to questions. For example, does everyone get to go or do people raise hands to speak? Share data privacy rules with them-- is the meeting confidential? Will it be recorded, and if so, who sees the recording? Is their any risk involved in their participation. You'll also want to share your expectations at this point. You might say something like, "Respectful, open dialogue and disagreement is permitted; personal attacks and violent language are not. Everyone is encouraged to share, and I will do my best to make sure everyone's voice is heard."
During the Interview
Warm them up. Start with questions that are easy to answer and low stakes rather than the heavy hitters. As you build trust, you'll be more likely to get thorough, thoughtful answers, so save the questions that come with a little risk for the middle of the interview. For example, don't ask "Do you like your job?" or "Does the work environment impact how you do your job?" as the first question. Try something like, "Tell me about your first day on the job" or "What does learning and development mean to you?"
Moderate the group. Some people may be more willing to share than others. Some people may steal the floor or interrupt. Your job is to moderate and make sure everyone is getting a chance to say what they need to say. It's also to protect the psychological safety of group members. Do not be afraid to step in when needed.
Get to the who, not just the how. This interview isn't just about understanding the work. You could do that in an observation or by reading a manual. It's to understand the people. There are four things that I'd argue are just as important as understanding how they do their jobs. They are the participants':
Sources of inspiration
Balance questions. Don't default to just yes/no questions or open-ended questions. Mix them up. Let them build on each other. Ask questions that are intentionally vague and ones that are super specific. For example, "How does that work?" versus "Can you give an example of a time when..." can yield very different responses. You want to allow flexibility for genuine responses and gathering insights perhaps you weren't expecting to receive, and you want to balance that will the need to have solid answers about certain things.
Don't lead the witness. Don't bake your expected response in the question. For example, "How are you liking the work?" is different than "How do you feel about the work you're doing?" One suggests the language the person should use about the job ("I like it" or "I don't like it") and one leaves open space for language ("I find it frustrating. I find it exciting.").
At the End of the Interview
Thank them. Self-explanatory.
Explain next steps. Is this the end of the road? Will there be follow up interviews? Will there be follow up observations? Will their information be used to inform a next step? Let them know what's coming, so, again, they see the value of their participation.
Capture post-interview thoughts. You'll forget a lot more quickly than you think. Jot down or voice record the big ideas you want to hang on to, the things you're still wondering about, and any questions that might require follow up or further data collection.
Transcribe and analyze the data. The interview is qualitative data. You will need to code it and make sense of what you see. We often use the grounded theory methodology, letting trends and explanations bubble up on their own rather than having a certain set of themes or criteria we're looking for. It's also good to quantify the qualitative data, when possible. For example, is a topic mentioned often? How often? How many people have the same gripe? How many different phrases are used to describe the same thing (that your organization hopes to standardize)? Ultimately, it's up to us to make sense of what we see and deliver our recommendations based on the data.
Other Good to Knows
Ultimately, you should prioritize using interview time to capture insights that cannot be captured any other way.
And remember, the interview is just one tool. People can give you great insights, but they can also have clouded judgment, biases, and blind spots. Use the interview in conjunction with other audience analysis tools to get the clearest picture possible of the learning context.
Your goal is to make sure you understand your audience well enough that you can design a solution that responds to their needs AND engages them meaningfully, which is the only way you're going to keep a social learning experience alive.
Contact us for a consultation.