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  Guide to Interviewing

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A Guide to Semi-Structured Interview Techniques

Semi-structured interviews can be used to gather evidence and insights from stakeholders in a BPR study. It is important that the evidence and insights obtained are of as high quality as possible. The investigator should aim to capture the authentic 'voice' and viewpoints of the interviewee: it is no good leading the interviewee towards the answers that you think you want to hear.

Therefore, the skill of semi-structured interviewing is important to BPR. This appendix contains some basic guidelines on how best to carry out semi-structured questioning.

Use open-ended questions

Open-ended questions allow the interviewee to respond to a question, as they deem appropriate. They are able to provide the answers that are important to them. The question is used to give a prompt but the interviewer has no control over what the interviewee says.

  • "In the light of the Best Value regime, what are the main challenges for the Council?"

Supplement open-ended questions with closed questions

Closed questions are useful because they confine the subject to pre-determined responses. This makes quantitative analysis possible. However, of necessity, they pre-judge the interviewee's responses and therefore should always be used with caution.

  • "In the light of the Best Value regime, which of the following are the main challenges for the Council? A. Comparative analysis with the private sector. B. Comparative Analysis with the public sector. C. Both of these."
  • "Does the Best Value regime represent an important challenge to the Council?" This question implies a 'Yes' or 'No' answer and is therefore closed.

Provide structure, do not provide pointers

In a semi-structured interview, the questions are composed so as to define a context for the interviewee's responses. Consider the example below:

  • "In the light of the Best Value regime, what are the main challenges for the Council?"

This question has three structuring elements within it. These are highlighted below:

  • In the light of the Best Value regime, what are the main challenges for the Council ?"

The question informs the interviewee that the response should relate to all three of these structuring elements. It is legitimate for the interview questions to do this. However, they should not point towards answers in the manner of a closed question. An example of a poorly phrased question is provided below:

  • "In the light of the Best Value regime, don't you think that the council has to learn from the private sector?"

Ask for clarification, for detail, for examples, illustrations and anecdotes

Wherever appropriate, the interviewer should ask for clarification and detail. The following are examples of obvious prompts that can be used:

  • "Can you clarify that?"
  • "Can you clarify what you mean by X?"

It is also useful if the interviewer encourages the respondent to give examples, illustrations and anecdotes. These can be very useful in gaining evidence of issues and problems. Such evidence can be very useful later on when it is necessary to share findings with other members of the BPR team.

Use supplementary questions for more pointed debate

It is legitimate for the interviewer to intersperse his/her questions with supplementary questions that relate to points made during the interview.

Use the same structure with different stakeholders

Wherever appropriate, different stakeholders should be interviewed using the same questions. This makes it easier to compare their responses and points of view.

The following table is a suggested structure for a stakeholder interview.

What is the stakeholders job? Including goals and primary tasks The 'goal' of the job and the tasks that they undertake may not necessarily be the same - which in itself can indicate areas for improvement. e.g. Someone who is providing a counter service, yet spends much of their time answering the phone or on administrative tasks
Ask them to describe the business process

Where it is the 'baseline' process get as much detail as you can. This interview will be your basis for mapping the process.

Interests and conflicts Discuss with stakeholders their perception of what they contribute and what they gain from the process. Identify any perceived conflict with other interests.
Problems Ask about the things that go wrong, sources of inefficiency etc.
Current support To what extent are stakeholder goals/roles supported by existing systems - these may be IT systems but also might be other systems (e.g. a filing or monitoring system.)
Improvement ideas These could be either of a technical (e.g. through IT) or an organisational nature.
Forthcoming changes in the business environment e.g. new demands arising from government regulation

Obtain background information

Start your interview by acquiring essential background information, e.g.

  • Name
  • Job or office
  • Role and responsibilities
  • Reporting to
  • Liasing with
  • How long in that position?
  • How long in authority?

Observe interview etiquette

The interviewer is dependent on the patience and input of the respondent. To make this as easy as possible, the interviewer should observe fundamental interview etiquette, e.g.

  • Introduce yourself
  • Introduce reason for interview
  • Exchange telephone numbers/email addresses
  • Agree time limits (and keep to them)
  • Inform of conditions of confidentiality
  • Ask permission for use of tape recorder and/or note-taking
  • Provide feedback - let the respondent see a summary of the findings of the interview.

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