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Interviews and Focus Group Discussions

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In this lesson, we will study about interviews and focus group discussions.Now interviews and focus group discussions are generally categorized under the methods that qualify as qualitative research methods.However, when we move across boundaries and go towards interdisciplinary research, we have seen that interviews and focus group discussions can actually go on to strengthen the quantitative data that we have gathered through questionnaires or various other kinds of methods that qualify as quantitative research methods.So, in that sense interviews and focus group discussions have become integral to various studies in which the focus is on collecting in-depth information about the sample that we are studying.Now, generally, when we think about interviews, it strikes to us as something which is very formal.However, if you look at the kinds of interviews and focus group discussions that are carried out for better analyzing the research results that we have, you would see that there is a wide diversity in terms of the interviews that are carried out.Now they range from being completely unstructured interviews to very structured interviews.So keeping these things in mind, let us streamline our discussion with regard to some of the very important things that need to be kept in mind when we are carrying out interviews and focus group discussions.So, what we will cover in today's lecture as follows.Why should we do interviews?What are the different types of interviews, interview strategies and processes, what are focus groups and then finally, we will focus on incorporating focus groups into a development project, what are the things that we should keep in mind when we are incorporating FOOD into a development project?And finally, I will end with some of the key steps that need to be kept in mind when we are undertaking a focus group discussion.So now, why we do interviews?Interviews are some of the main channels of information gathering but they are also used as a starting point- a background to support other forms of data collection.Now bear in mind that when we are talking about interviews, we are mostly talking about personal interviews- one on one interviews that are carried out with samples that are carefully chosen based upon certain criteria and those criteria that are to be kept in mind for collecting our sample depends upon the research problem that we are investigating.Whereas focus group discussions are usually carried out in a group and that is one of the major difference between personal interviews and focus group discussions.Group interviews, vis-a-vis one on one interviews with key informants or any other stakeholders that are integral to the research problem that we have undertaken.Now a valuable method of gaining insight into people's perceptions, understanding and experiences of a given phenomenon.That is something which is one of the main objectives of why we should carry out interviews and also we can contribute to in-depth data collection.Often when we are carrying out questionnaire surveys, questionnaire-based surveys that qualify as quantitative research, you would see that there is and often when they are structured questionnaires, there is not much scope to take into account the respondents comments and the respondents interpretation regarding a certain question that we are investigating.And however, to get a big picture or the overall picture of the problem that we are studying often we depend upon personal interviews after the sample surveys are concluded.A quantitative research interview seeks to cover both factual and a meaning level though it is usually more difficult to interview on a meaning level.The meaning level here basically means the respondents’ own interpretation about a certain question that we are asking.So, for example, if we have a question on the food security status of the respondent- of a woman respondent or a male head or a female head who is the respondent of our study, often when we have questions regarding the frequency of meals taken by the households and it is being responded with a male the female head, the structured questionnaire will have space with regard to capturing only the amount of meals taken and the frequency with which it is taken.However, the respondents’ own interpretation regarding their food security status does not get captured in these kinds of surveys.And if the survey results move towards informing policy in that area, often it is useful to go back to the informants or to the respondents and make them a key informant and collect further information regarding their own perceptions about their food security status.That can go a very long way of informing public policy.So, therefore, these are some of the reasons why interviews need to be carried out.Now interviews are an excellent way of gaining factual information such as details of NGOpolicies and government initiatives or for generating information such as the ways in which particular policies were devised.It is also an opportunity to examine processes, motivations, and reasons for success or failures.And it also provides qualitative dimensions such as providing explanations for patterns or considering attitudes and opinions.Often in the previous classes, I have taken examples from NREGS programs from complementary feeding practices or other kinds of nutrition policies that are integral to a development project that we are studying.And these are also the areas where personal interviews go a long way in helping us come up with proper conclusions regarding what are the people's perceptions regarding government interventions that have been carried out and how it can be further improved upon, and what are the successes and failures of interventions carried out by various agencies.Now, as I said, the types of interviews are diverse and they range from being unstructured interviews to structured interviews.And one of the most dominant forms of interviews- personal interviews, that are carried out as part of research processes in social sciences is semi-structured interviews.This is so because often the respondents answer- the key informants’ answer- informs the interviewer regarding the questions that should follow.And therefore it works in the best interest of the interviewer and the research that we are undertaking to have to conduct semi-structured interviews.So what are these different interviews?And what are the basic characteristics of these different kinds of interviews?The structured interview basically looks like a preset list of questions which are often standardized across interviewees.So, depending upon the respondents that we have identified or the key informants that we have identified for our study, the set of questions does not change across the interviewees that we are interviewing.However, the semi-structured interview does not take place in such a manner.Therefore in structured interviews, there is not much room for veering off the topic in question.If a certain question- question number one is being asked to a certain interviewee one and the same question gets repeated across all the interviewees and there is no scope for the interviewer to go around to veer off the topic that is being asked.In structured interviews, questions are set in a clear and unambiguous manner that is clearly understandable and this is primarily because it is a standardized set of questions and it should not change across interviews.Semi-structured interviews on the other hand are interview schedules with suggested themes.There is scope for the interview is to develop their processes.Therefore, the semi-structured interview schedules are usually not presented in the form of questions but as different kinds of themes.We will take one of the examples of the semi-structured interview in this lecture also.So semi-structured interviews of a more flexible approach.And the issues are explored from an individualistic perspective, keeping room to understand that the responses of the interviewees might enable the interviewer to understand what are the different kinds of questions that may be asked to the other interviewees and of course these are not standardized.These questions come up based upon the responses that the interviewer is getting.Unstructured interviews are non-directive, they usually comprise themes rather than specific questions.And there is an opportunity to take the discussion in whichever direction the interviewees choose.And unstructured interviews are often more conversational in that they are not directed by the interviewer.And unstructured interviews are therefore best recorded because of the conversational style of the interview and there is no specified duration or time limit within which unstructured interviews can get over.However unstructured interviews in certain cases can also provide a great variety of information and in-depth information.And it can also give us cues with regard to the social networks of the individual that is being interviewed.And therefore unstructured interviews often gives us the scope to go into a snowballing technique of finding a sample wearing the interviewee informs the interviewer who all should be interviewed because of the conversations continuing regarding the question that we are investigating.This is an example of a semi-structured interview.This example comes from a part of a study of women’s paid and unpaid work in Oaxaca in Mexico, where the objective was to look at the similarities and differences between socio-economic groups and the importance of social networks within women’s working lives.So the interviewer structured the interview schedule in such a manner deciding on the themes that should be taken up as part of the later research process.So first, it begins with an introduction to the research.The interviewer informs the interviewee regarding the research that she is carrying out, the issues regarding confidentiality, whether confidentiality relates to the interviewee or the confidentiality with regard to the reporting of the research is discussed with the interviewee and also permissions regarding taping or the recording of the interview is also taken from the interviewee.Then there is a general conversation about household, house, and neighbourhood.Now, one point that needs to be kept in mind here is that often personal interviews are either done at the beginning of a study or at the end of a study.At the beginning of the study, personal interviews are undertaken to break the ice between the interviewer and the interviewee and also it helps us to lay down the basic foundation of the work that we are pursuing.And when personal interviews are carried out at the end of the study, it often follows the elaborate surveys or case studies that we have carried out.And therefore personal interviews go on to provide us with in-depth information about the key informants that can give us the big picture of what the study is all about.So the second theme was on a general conversation about households, house, and the neighbourhood.The third theme was on paid work.So the choice of employment, how the job was secured, opinion of work, future plans, difficulties, if not in paid work at moment discuss paid work in the past, reasons for not being unpaid work, future plans.So, in this theme, you would see that since the objective is to look at the similarities and differences between socioeconomic groups with regard to women’s paid and unpaid work in a certain city in Mexico, so one of the first themes that the interviewer has highlighted on is paid work and what are the possible set of questions that can be asked with regard to paid work are put together under a certain theme.Fourth, because again the focus is on paid and unpaid work and mostly unpaid work emerges out of domestic tasks.So, the fourth theme that has been highlighted is domestic tasks- the types of activities, time taken, the help provided, opinions and domestic work and so on.The fifth is community activities, community organizations, church work-based groups, reasons for involvement in these community organizations, and nature of involvement.Now, why the focus is on community activities because the objective highlights that the researcher is looking also at the importance of social networks within women’s lives.So they are not just looking at paid and unpaid works that women are taking up, the researchers also trying to look into the social networks that might go on to inform their income outcome for their well-being outcomes in totality.Finally, on socializing, meeting with friends, family, their kin, neighbours, feelings of belonging, isolation and so on.So the information provided by the interviewee on socializing also goes on to inform the social networks of the women that are being studied here.Finally, there are other questions. so these questions come up as a part of the interview sometimes, oftentimes actually the interviewer can also ask the interviewee regarding questions that may be asked to the interviewer about the research that is being undertaken as some important interpretations and comments can come up from the interviewee also with regard to the research question that we are investigating.So, this is a plain simple format of how a semi-structured interview question, it is not exactly a question about a semi-structured interview should do looks like and various more themes can be added on depending upon the research question that we have taken up for the purpose.Now let us come to interview strategies.One is of course, we have seen what are interviews, what are the different kinds of interviews, and what can different interview schedules look like.And I focused mostly on semi-structured interviews schedules because that is one of the most dominant forms of carrying out interviews in development research.However, there are also interview strategies that need to be kept in mind when following this method.One is of course with regard to recruiting of interviewees- who should we interview and how should we identify who should be interviewed.Oftentimes, I have used the term called key informant and this key informant is very central to development research because identifying key informant is one of the primary tasks of carrying out research particularly, qualitative research in this field.And recruiting of key informants for personal interviews as a research method is of utmost importance because most of the conclusions that we can draw out of a research project can be drawn from the different themes that are arising out of the key informant interviews.Second is of course, where do we do these interviews?Can these interviews be carried out wherever we feel like or wherever the respondents feel like or are there specific locations that we must keep in mind when we are carrying out the interviews?When to do interviews, asking questions, how do we ask the questions, recording the interview and representativeness and accuracy of the interviews that we are carrying out?So, these are a few things that need to be kept in mind with regard to the strategies of interviews that we are carrying out and let us look at each one of them.So, with regard to recruiting interviews, often what should be kept in mind is what is the population that we are studying and what is the sample that we have drawn out of the population to carry on our investigation further.Now the kind of sample the research question requires will decide who to interview.Considering the population from which to select interviewees will be very helpful in finding out about people’s attitudes and perceptions.Now I will go back to the example that I have been taking in this course, that is on complementary feeding practice.Suppose we are interested in looking at the nutrition and health outcomes of children under 2 and we approach a certain community or a certain locality to carry out a sample survey trying to collect quantitative data on nutrition outcomes.And some of the best nutrition outcomes data that has been stressed upon in the literature with regard to let us say the BMI- the body mass index or the stunting indicator, wasting indicator, severely stunting, severe wasting, underweight, overweight indicator and so on.Now, suppose the survey has already captured information based upon which we have been able to generate the estimates on the nutrition outcome indicators.However, we need additional information for coming up with what are the real reasons and causes behind these nutrition outcomes that we are seeing as a part of this study.So then the question arises, who should we interview further after having completed the survey, so that we can come up with justifiable results or justifiable conclusions regarding the study that we have undertaken.Now, obviously, when a target group here is children under 2, the key informants should also be coming from the caregivers of children under 2.They may be fathers or they may be mothers, or they may be older siblings or extended family members or members within the community who are taking care of the children when the primary caregivers are out of home because of work or for various other purposes.So then the recruitment of interviewees should take place from among the primary caregivers are the secondary caregivers who are present when the primary caregivers are not present in the location.Some of the other key informants could also include government functionaries who contribute to knowledge and awareness with regard to health and nutrition that reaches the households.In the Indian context, for example, you must have heard of Integrated Child DevelopmentServices of Anganwadi centres, and various kinds of health centres that have representatives sent to the households, so that they can provide information about nutrition outcomes.So in this case, the Anganwadi workers or the Asha workers or various ICDS representatives can also become key informants.And this is what we mean by recruitment of interviewees because these are the key informants that can give us further information about what it is that is contributing to such nutrition deficiencies or positive nutrition outcomes whatever may be the case.Second is of course target, we need to ensure to target a diverse range of people with different opinions or perceptions based on their own experiences in context.Now, given this example, that I have just taken here, the target population is, of course, the caregivers of children under 2 and the government functionaries or community health workers who are contributing to the knowledge and awareness base of the caregivers of these children.However, we should also ensure the representativeness of the information that we are getting.Now, given the target population that we have identified, it is possible that there is a wide distribution with regard to the samples that we have identified.For example, there may be households which are high on the income hierarchy, there may be households which are low on the income hierarchy.There may be households who have access to multiple sources of food, there may be households who are completely dependent only on government sources of food or only on the market for food.Therefore, we must purposively ensure that we are trying to include- whenever we're carrying on personal interviews since it is in the hands of the interviewer to decide to keep certain characteristics in mind regarding the samples that should be recruited for the interview, we should, therefore, ensure that the interviewees that are being recruited for this purpose also cater to various socio-economic categories so that the results that we are getting about the question in hand, here the question in hand is about complementary feeding practices, that can go a long way in coming up with a justifiable conclusion.The fourth strategy is with regard to advising of gatekeepers.Often we should recruit interviewees following the advice of the gatekeepers such as NGOpresident, village man, or a community leader.Now, for example, here in the example that we have taken on complementary feeding practices and nutrition and health outcomes, the government functionaries that are looking after nutrition and health, let us say ICDS workers or Anganwadi workers can also provide us information about who would be the best person to be interviewed in this case.Suppose there has been a government intervention and malnutrition among children have been checked in a certain community and if there are households who have benefited out of these interventions, then the ICDS worker may be able to pinpoint the interviewer that they must go to such and such household for getting information about the government interventions that has been able to check malnourishment in that particular household.And that is what we mean by gatekeeper advice.I have already referred to snowballing techniques and diversity of interviews.And also the fact that semi-structured interviews are the best instrument to follow when we're taking of snowballing techniques.And we should also try to get a great diversity of interviewees for our study.Snowballing technique just to repeat basically means that one interviewer gives us information about another interviewee that can be taken up for our study.Now, where should we carry out these interviews?Location is extremely important because location affects the material gathered.It also influences the dynamics of the interview, it determines the way in which we present ourselves to potential interviewees and it gives insights to our research.Often in the context of social science research, the location becomes very important.Suppose we are conducting a study on government interventions and government program benefits that are reaching the different households, it is not advisable to carry out such interviews in the open- outside the household, because different government interventions have different benefits for different households.So, when we are carrying out such interviews in the public domain, within a village area let us say, there may be certain households who have not been considered for a program and there may be certain households who have been considered.So, in this case, it is possible that we are creating some kind of a divergence within the community.Some kind of division within the community when we are carrying on interviews in the open.And in such cases, it is advisable to find a secluded place possibly within the house of the respondent that we have chosen for our study where the interview should be carried out.Similarly, suppose we are carrying a personal interview on domestic violence let us say or child violence within the household and here the home terrain becomes very difficult for us to carry out the interview.And in that case, the timing of the interview becomes very important, because if we want to capture the information by one of the spouses regarding spousal violence, then we might actually direct the respondent to be available at their home, within the home, only when the other spouse is not present within the household.Therefore, the location and timing of the interview are of utmost importance.What are the things that we should keep in mind when we are selecting the location?Of course, somewhere where the interviewee should feel comfortable.We must take into consideration distractions because distractions will not help us record the interviews properly, ask the questions in a systematic manner.We must take into consideration how the location will be interpreted by the interviewee or others in the community.Often the gender of the interviewer also bears a lot of importance and we are carrying out interviews because very secluded locations of interviews might become problematic for the interviewee to be able to give responses to the interviewer.Therefore that must be kept in mind.We should not select locations that are potentially dangerous to the interviewer, and this is important when we are carrying out studies or in conflict-ridden situations of conflict-ridden areas.When we are carrying out when we are investigating questions that have importance to the life and property of the interviewees.As I have already mentioned, you must also take into consideration the gender aspect very seriously.Now why the timing is important?It is important because of the convenience of the interviewee affects the material gathered.Timing according to the time frame of the research is also important.Now, why the convenience of the interviewee is very important?Because the duration of the interview might take somewhere between half an hour to 3 hours.So if the interviewee is not comfortable regarding the timing and location of the interview that should be carried out, the results that we are getting- the material that we are gathering out of the interview get gets affected.And therefore it is important to keep this in mind.Now how do we decide on the timing?Of course, the convenience of the interviewee bears a lot of importance when we are deciding on the timing because we have to take into consideration distractions, social and gender aspects, potentially dangerous situations of the interviewee.We must take care of not putting the interviewee potentially dangerous situations.And key individuals as I have already mentioned can be interviewed either in the beginning or at the end of the research.And the ideal way is to interview key individuals at both the beginning and the end of the fieldwork and often when the fieldwork carries on for longer duration say for one month or 2 months or sometimes for 6 months or a year.When we are carrying on ethnographic studies, you would see that interviewers taken at the beginning of the study and at the end of the study differ widely.That also helps us come up with properly concluding about the research question that we have taken up.Now asking questions, certain things to be kept in mind about asking questions.Before starting the questions, we must make sure that the interviewee knows that what the research is all about, the interviewee should be assured of confidentiality and interviewee knows how long the interview is going to take and whether it should be recorded or not.With regard to asking questions, we must remember, the interviewer must remember, that the interview is not an interrogation and it should be asked in an unthreatening manner as much as possible.We should not launch into complicated and sensitive questions at the start of the interview.I was taking the example of domestic violence or spousal violence as a topic that can be taken up for qualitative personal interviews.And since this is a sensitive topic, to begin with, it is best to avoid opening the questions with very sensitive questions, because the ice-breaking session between the interviewer and the interviewee needs to occur beforehand.Now, often it is important that even if we have a preset list of questions, we give the interviewee chance to develop their ideas and also ask clarification if necessary.And this is where the time frame of the interview becomes very important.We must engage with the process and listen to the responses carefully and this engagement with the process can happen well if the interviewer is properly prepared for the interview.Therefore, understand that personal interviews come as a research method in the process of research that you have undertaken.So therefore the preparation of the interviewer is of utmost importance before initiating the interview.One should be completely aware of the literature that helps us explain the responses of the interviewee properly.And at the end of the interview, we must provide the interviewee with an opportunity to ask questions to the interviewer and sometimes the questions that the interviewee asks also lets us know what is on the mind of the interviewee with regard to the research question that we are investigating.And oftentimes it becomes very crucial for us in interpreting the responses that we are getting and goes on to inform the conclusions that we are trying to draw to for research study.Recording.Certain things to be kept in mind are it depends on the interviewee preference, logistics and language ability as well as the nature of our research.And the possible forms of recording are many these days.But what are the benefits of direct recording?It allows us to concentrate completely on the interview without having to worry about taking notes or remembering points to write up later.Although it must be kept in mind that transcribing the material from recording devices also takes a lot of time and energy and therefore these things must be judiciously decided upon- whether the interviewer is completely depending upon only recording devices, or the interviewer is depending upon notes along with the recording devices.So other benefits of direct recording are it allows us to check the meaning of words and phrases that we may have missed during the interview.And this is of the utmost importance when there is a language barrier or there are language limitations between the interviewer and the interviewee.It is also very important if our research is examining forms of discourse.By having the actual words and forms of expression we will be able to have much greater source material for this form of analysis.Now with regard to accuracy or representativeness issues when using a small selection of interviewees to discuss wider trends in a group or community, researchers need to consider how representative the interviewees are of this wider group.I was taking the example of complementary feeding practices and if the interviewees are the primary caregivers and if we are researching a certain community or a diverse group of communities, the interviewer has to ensure that the primary caregivers belong to the different