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Fall12 INF1240 Research Methods - Interviews/Focus Groups

Lecture Slides: Week 4, Oct. 1, 2012
by

Sara Grimes

on 1 October 2012

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Transcript of Fall12 INF1240 Research Methods - Interviews/Focus Groups

How? Interviews &
Focus Groups "What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things." Margaret Mead Face-To-Face Interviews Focus Groups Informed by scientific model
- Reliability
- Researcher influence
- Structure & Standardization Informed by feminist theory
- Flexibility
- Trust, emphathy, relationship
- Lightly structured, responsive Question wording is key!
Lit review & pilot studies crucial
Fixed responses (specific/focused), can be compared more easily
Set sequence (stick to the script!!)
Minimize variation and researcher influence (tone, reactions, facial expressions, dress, etc.) Key Limitation: Structure Difficult to anticipate responses, respondents
Minimize with:
lightly-structured pilot studies,
extensive lit review, and
lots of practice conducting interviews Selecting your "instruments" Key Limitation: Breadth Making sense of the data can be a HUGE challenge.
How to compare - or even interpret - incomplete, spontaneous, diverse answers??
Minimize by:
Using for questions/projects aimed at exploring & understanding, feelings, motivations, of smaller groups (or case studies, etc.)
Develop method for analyzing the "data" Lightly structured, open-ended questions - must provoke answers
Prompts and responsiveness are key! Keep'em talking
Flow of conversation is led by respondent (rather than researcher)
Put aside expectations
Empathetic connection with your informants is important Key Strength: Structure Highly Structured Lightly Structured Semi Structured Key Strength: Nuance Combination of the two Example:
open-ended, lightly structured questions
researcher follows a flexible and improvised "pseudo-script" - more or less planned
Key is to achieve balance between letting respondent lead, and then guiding them back to the topic (or transitioning into the next topic).
Salsa dancing? Ebb and flow
Prompts, transitions and pilot studies also very important here. Prepare!!! Alternatives David Gauntlett's Approach
Engagement with contemporary media = Complex, multi-layered, visual world = sliced up and dissolved into straightforward, written accounts

ArtLab studies = new type of research that harnesses respondents' own creativity, reflexivity and "knowingness"

Rather than describe in words, individuals are asked to produce a thing/object

Use of metaphor and self expression to unpack, explore complex phenomena, relationships, feelings, etc. Opportunities Challenges Face-to-face interactions aren't always pleasant - some risk attached.
Taking Notes Collecting the Data Need to record verbal AND non-verbal.
Focus groups - note interactions, reactions between individuals (group dynamics)
But also need to listen/appear interested.

Division of labour - note-taker and interviewer.
Filling out the details (immediately) afterwards Making Recordings Need explicit consent to record - audio, video
Respondent must feel they can stop the recording at any time
(what will this do to your data - backup plan!!!!)
More data - more analysis will be expected
Transcriptions, video analysis
Storage, privacy/anonymity, destroying the data or Locating Respondents/Informants Tips & Strategies:
Forget about random sampling - "purposive sampling" often used in this type of research
"Diversity" = central to thinking about your sample = qualitative, rather than statistical diversity = maps the terrain/scope of people's experience
Pilot, pilot, pilot - rehearse and test your instruments BEFORE using them on actual respondents. Purposive sampling: respondents "are selected non-randomly because they possess a particular characteristic." Three main issues:
Who to talk to? Ho many people to talk to? How to find them? (Frey et al. (1991). Investigating communication: an introduction to research methods) Who to talk to? Excellent for eliciting people's thoughts, interpretations, opinions, etc., on complex, ambiguous or sensitive issues.
"Group dynamics are such that opinion and participation are not equally weighted; some people have disproportionate influence. But real life is like that: opinions are not so much the property of individuals as public-opinion polling would have us think: Opinions arise out of interactions, and 'opinion leaders' have disproportionate influence" Liebes & Katz (1990). The Export of Meaning. Oxford Uni Press, p.29. "Individual interviews are frequently called 'depth-interviews,' a label that clearly singles out the advantage of interviewing people individually. The depth obtained is, first of all, due to the objective circumstance that an individual informant gets to say far more, and has greater opportunity to develop an argument or a narrative...More qulitatively, the one-to-one situation also enables the researcher to ask much more detailed questions that may be tailored to the specific circumstances divulged by the informant."

Schroder et al. (2003) Researching Audiences. Oxford Uni Press, p.153, Will group dynamics be an advantage or a disadvantage?

Will one-on-one rapport be an advantage or disadvantage? Structure feeds into interview guide (or script), sampling approach, analysis, etc. How many to talk to? How to find them? Possibility of capturing (and exploring) nuance, complexity, contradictions, contexts, etc. of responses, thoughts and feelings.
Can decrease chance of miscommunication - can follow up, delve deeper, ask for definitions or meanings, etc.
For research questions about a particular group, or even those dealing with broader social issues, can allow you to go straight to "the source"
Data collection is complex but also immediate.
Multiple forms of information available - verbal, non-verbal, pauses, hesitations. Discursive/speech acts. Personal safety of researcher as important as privacy/anonymity of respondent(s). e.g. visit homes in pairs, tell someone where you're going, etc.
Risk to the respondents as well - ethical considerations, potential for harm. e.g. questions on sensitive or emotional issues
Researcher as instrument. Interview as co-created by researcher and respondent. Layers to consider - impact, interpretation, interaction
Researcher impact - what do you represent in this interaction? Authority? gender? socio-economics?
Reactions - body language, tone, etc. Do you know how to read them?
Halo effect (which happens when the respondent tells you what they think you want to hear, or answers that will most please or help you).
Relevant informants are often those who have something to say about your topic - because they are familiar with it, affected by it, involved in it, etc.
Exception = studies exploring marginalization, exclusion, etc.
e.g. Why is it that some people have never used a public library?
Figuring out who is "relevant" can be tricky - draw on your own knowledge, past literature, trade publications, media coverage, etc. Standard advice (literature) is to aim for a maximum diversity and continue until you are no longer finding out anything new.


Focus groups for beginners: smaller groups are easier to manage and record.

Schroder et al (2003) recommend groups of 3 or 4 to start (e.g. commercial research use groups of 8-12).

***Plan for possible no-shows and cancellations.***
Pragmatic advice - operationalize the composition of the sample according to a set of criteria that will most likely result in a maximum diversity of responses.

e.g. Previous studies suggest that gender, age, education, and socio-economic background are the characteristics most likely to influence a person's information seeking practices. In order to include all possible combinations, how big would your sample need to be?
Small-scale research often include a smaller number of informants.
The more narrowly you define your "target group," the smaller your sample can be and remain somewhat representative of the group.
Can also frame (sample or individuals) as a case study - not representative, but noteworthy because.... Avoid overly-heterogeneous groups (need a base of common ground if the discussion is going to flow easily and immediately)

How many groups? Rigorous study will include at least 6. Commercial studies 2-4. For small-scale research 2-3 is usually fine. Thus, can use the "snowball technique" or referrals. E.g. ask your contact or a friend of a friend to ask their friends, community members, etc.

This type of research can sometimes draw on "network groups" - people who already know each other (co-workers, friends, members of a "beer hockey" league or community library). On-site recruiting: Go to a place where your informants are likely to be, and approach people and ask them to participate in your study.
Start with a short questionnaire - to find out if people belong to your "target group" AND to ask if they are willing to be contacted in the future to participate in your focus group (can use the survey further).
Advertise! Posters, emails, forum postings, etc.

Incentives - e.g. refreshments, etc., can be used, but should always be token of appreciation, rather than remuneration. In-Class Exercise Interview a classmate about their research topic/question. Step 1: Spend about 5 minutes coming up with questions for your interview (structured, semi-structured, lightly structured) & at least a few "probes."

Step 2: Group into pairs (of 2) and take turns interviewing each other, using the questions you came up with in Step 1. Spend about 5 minutes on each interview.

Step 3: Debrief: What did you learn about your partner's research topic? What did you learn about your own research topic? What did you learn about the interview process, question structure, use of probes, etc.
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