Getting good information by interview

You can use interviews with staff to get useful ideas for improvement. You need to understand the strengths and faults of the present system to improve it. This process requires the full and free co-operation of the users. Thus the interviews must produce valid information and encourage people to get involved in improving the system.

Structure of an Interview

People are understandably anxious about being interviewed. They feel reassured if they know the topic, history and reason for the conversation and what will happen to the information they give. They may require assurance about personal confidentiality.

The structure should be a flexible guide rather than a mechanical list of questions. People should have the space and encouragement to raise relevant things that we did not know we needed to know. One gross structure I like, after setting the scene, is: –

  • How are things now?
  • How would you like things to be in the future?
  • What can you/we do to get there?

As the interviewee answers the first question, flexibly follow up his/her response with summaries and subsidiary questions. “You sounded quite frustrated about the amount of chasing people you do, can you see any way around this?” Later, you can refer to a check list of questions to see if you have missed any “Understanding Now” questions, and ask them.

You can then repeat the above to get information about “Ideal Future” and “How to get There”.

This structure identifies the major concern to the interviewee and gets good co-operation.

The effects of these interviews

These interviews will give us some understanding of the system and how people might improve it. They will also show us the benefits of improvement. Interviews like this stimulate thinking about and discussion of a topic. They make it more important for the organisation to act on it. They can encourage interviewees to act too.

The Skills of Interviewing

We want people to talk to us freely. People need as a minimum for the person listening to be there for them. That means concentrating on listening to and thinking about the other person and what she or he is saying and not thinking about anything else. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Most people respond to others who listen. Show you are listening by being still, looking at the speaker and summarising to check their understanding. Sometimes people need time to think to respond to a question. You can encourage people to take their time. It helps not to jump in and fill a silence too quickly. You will know from your experience what else good listeners do.

Effective interviewers listen more than they talk. Aim for a ratio of about three to one.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick