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Resources :: Guide :: Data collection :: Data collection methods :: Interviews


Interviews, particularly in ethnographic research, can play a vital role in data collection. The Board will need to know at what level you will engage the participant, how identifiable the participant will be, and how you will obtain consent. Understanding the difference between a “casual interview” versus a “formal interview” will help you to describe your consent process, etc, in your protocol. Some interviews can qualify for exemption; see Exemption: Educational Tests, Survey Procedures, Interviews, and Observation of Public Behavior. If your study is not exempt, you will be required to obtain consent from the individual that you interview. The following sections describe typical interview scenarios and when it is appropriate to document consent.

Conducting a casual interview
A casual interview happens when the interviewee is approached on an informal basis. The interview is short and identifying information is generally not collected except when the interview may lead to a formal interview. If you don’t collect identifiable information about the individual (written notes only, audio recordings are considered identifiable) and the information you are collecting are considered minimally risky, it isn’t necessary to do a formal consent process, though you should approach your participants by disclosing your identity and your purpose for talking to them (i.e. “Hi, my name is Mary and I’m a researcher from the University of Virginia. I want to ask you a few questions about… Is that okay?”).  You can modify your approach so that it is culturally appropriate, but this should be explained in the consent section of the protocol form. The participant is usually contacted in a public area through a casual conversation. Please note that there are additional rules for interviewing minors and it is usually not appropriate to approach a minor without parental consent.

You should stop the interview and continue with a formal interview if the following occurs:

  • It is necessary for you to collect identifying information.
  • You wish to record the interview using an audio, digital, or video recorder and/or you want to take the participant’s picture.
  • The information you are collecting is more than minimally risky to the participant. Be particularly cautious if the participant starts to discuss illegal behaviors (assuming this is not part of your protocol); you should either attempt to redirect the person you are interviewing or stop the interview.  
Conducting a formal interview
A formal interview occurs when you make an appointment with a person to conduct a more detailed interview. The location may occur in a more private setting (particularly if the location affects the comfort of the participant and/or any risk involved). Identifying information is more likely collected (though if it is not necessary, don’t collect it as it reduces the risk for the participant not to collect identifying information). In most cases, you will need to obtain consent from the people you interview either through a consent form or oral consent (where appropriate). With the participant’s permission, it is acceptable to use audio, digital, or video recorders to assist in data collection. However, there still may be parameters on what is appropriate to discuss with the participants.

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