The interview is probably the best known way of using people as sources of information, but it is also one of the most difficult. If your knowledge needs are quite straightforward and respondents will not have to think deeply about their answers, then perhaps a questionnaire is the more appropriate tool. However, if your knowledge needs require the generation of complex, nuanced data, requiring some reflection on the part of the respondent, or is likely to include technical terms which may need clarification, then the interview is probably the better tool.
Interviews are either structured or semi-structured, with the latter format providing a more open structure to encourage the respondent to fully develop their answers and scope to pursue interesting tangents.
Download and read section 9.3 of the following document which is an account of the process of conducting interviews with women khannawallis, who make meals for migrant workers, in Bombay, India. The acronym AMM referred to in the reading is the Annapurna Mahila Mandal, a trade union like organisation for the women. Answer the following questions.
What factors influenced the selection of women for interview and the number of interviews done with particular women?
In what ways did the researcher have to change the format and recording of the interviews in response to the contextual environment?
How did the female researcher overcome the difficulty of entry to the male domain of the kholis?
What strengths and weaknesses does the researcher see in her interview sample?
The researcher wanted to interview khannawallis from different caste/religion/marital status. She gained access to the largest sample of women through her contact with the AMM. Access to non-AMM women was obtained through a union representative who acted as ‘gate-keeper’ and clients working at the local textile mill who bought meals from the women. The researcher was then able to find other contacts by ‘snowballing’ (initial contacts provide further contacts). Return interviews were conducted with women with whom the researcher had a rapport or who were particularly interesting from a research perspective, for example, the household with three generations of khannawallis.
The researcher had to abandon using a small tape recorder to record interviews because it attracted an audience among the khannawallis friends and relatives who ‘helped’ her answer the questions. Not wanting to use a notebook, together with translation difficulties, meant the researcher opted for a semi-structured interview in order to aid her memorising of the responses.
The researcher met a young man called Vilas, whose mother is a khannawalli, who was interested in her research and instrumental in helping her gain access to the clients in their kholis. He also acted as her escort.
The researcher feels the strengths of the interviews lay in the mix of results that provide unique insights into the relationship between the client-khannawalli relationship. The weaknesses lay in the non-neat client sample which relied on an opportunistic approach to obtaining interviews. But it should be noted that research will always have an element of pragmatic opportunism, where the researcher will need to adapt from what is desirable to what is manageable in the research process.