Tammy Krause, Faculty of Law, has just run an excellent workshop on ethical issues when doing sensitive interviewing. She drew on her extensive research experience of working with crack-addicted prostitutes and victims’ family members whose loved one was murdered.
Ethical issues which she discussed included gaining informed consent. It is helpful to you and the interviewee to clarify the issues; need to work within the university requirements, but written consent can be challenging for some participants, eg if their literacy is not good, or if they have concerns about legalistic requirements. However, for other people signing a contract may give them control.
The participants should drive the conversation and pace. They have the right to stop the conversation. Taking notes during the interview is not a good idea as you are not listening well, and not giving time and attention to the person. They wonder why you write some things and not others. Tape recorders best but because of confidentiality they need to be used carefully and with full consent.
Tammy talked about prophetic listening (Elise Boulding); when you listening so well that people have greater understanding of themselves than before. Allows people to validate themselves.
Tammy also conducted a great exercise to get participants working in pairs with one person talking and the other listening. Doing exercises learning to listen can be useful preparation for interviewing.
Tammy says she allows participants 10-15 minutes to interview her beforehand to decide whether or not they will take part. Working with a vulnerable community it is hard to do one-off interviews. It takes time to build a relationship and you need to develop rapport slowly. You also need to be comfortable with the subject matter – otherwise, better to choose a different subject.
Remember to allow the participants to hold the stage – it is not about you. Allow for pauses in the conversation; don’t worry about pauses. You need to be knowledgeable about the topic area but remember you are an outsider. Participants should not feel judged or judged unfairly. They want their experiences to be validated and to be recognized. How do you validate them? Not by saying they were right but by giving them your time and attention. . Valuable to write up field notes immediately, for example to record facial expressions, behaviour.
Also need to de-brief with respondents at the end of the research, for example through an exit interview. Show gratitude for the time people had given. Also think about caring for yourself – you are taking on a lot of emotional energy. Need to look after yourself in whatever way is best for you.
What do you think? add your comments
Angela Dale, December 8, 2010
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