Infocamp 2012 Session #1: How to design research for reluctant participants

truth in interviewing triangulate your questionsToday, I am at Infocamp. Right now I am on the lunch break, consolidating my notes from the first session. For those of you who don’t know how infocamp is structured, it is a participant-led series of talks. Seven infocampers had presentations and pitched what they wanted to talk to the infocamp when we met for the opening speaker. The first round of pitches have been done and I picked one of seven to go to: How to design research for reluctant participants.

The speaker is one of the researchers for It was his job to explore 1) Why don’t people pay for porn online? And 2) How do we communicate trust in an untrustworthy environment?. I am not going to answer these questions but tell you how he answered these questions through interviewing.

  1. Use a system to help you screen out your research participants. He used the service Make sure your screener is hard so that the people that end up in your study are going to be valuable. A tip: give them an open-ended question in the qualifying questionnaire. This helps you gauge how talkative they will be in the interview.
  2. Generous gratuity. Make it worth their time to participate in your study. (Try not to make it the main focus, otherwise you’ll have participants with dollar signs in their eyes instead of a genuine interest in communicating their feelings.)
  3. Don’t schedule. When you get a submitted questionnaire from a qualified candidate send them an email “Can I call you Right Now?” So that almost immediately after they have been screened, you have them on the phone ready for an interview. This is a good practice because they are still in the mindset of answering questions, specifically your kinds of questions. If you have to schedule…
  4. No shows? Fuggedaboutit. Be adaptive.
  5. During your interview triangulate your questions. (Interview tips below)
  6. Allow for anonymity. Take only first names, general regions vs. specific addresses and don’t record if they are uncomfortable in anyway.

Interview Tips

Be comfortable. Be able to probe through difficult questions. If you are uncomfortable, your feelings may be projected onto your interviewee. Build a relationship, rapport, trust, a comfortable space, whatever you can before going into your questions. When getting people to do things you want them to do, try make it seem like it is their idea. This is difficult and situational. It’s also improvisational. During your conversation, try regurgitating something that they said, but frame it in the way that you want it to be done and frame it as a question. (I’ll have to do more research and practice on this tactic.)

Triangulate your questions. The truth is between what they are not willing to talk about and what they are willing to talk about. Participants will often answer questions obliquely. It’s your job as an interviewer to ask reinforcing questions to get at what they aren’t saying.  Stagger your questions of the same topic you are investigating. Let your interview go conversationally and when a pause comes up, go to your next reinforcing question.

At this session, the speaker was great and his audience were also informative and had a few tips to share, too. I am looking forward to session #2!


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