Tips for remote working and interviewing

Before Covid, we had been remote-working here for over over a decade.  Jane and I are in different Sydney suburbs. Our virtual administrative assistant at the time Heather was based on the NSW North Coast. Suzanne has been living part-time on the NSW South Coast for a few years now. We have used Zoom, Skype, Adobe Connect, Redback Conferencing - and that old technology the mobile phone.  We have not only worked together this way - as an agency, we have conducted probably about a thousand interviews remotely - and several remote presentations as well for international clients.  Lots of experience and our knowledge of semiotics, discourse analysis and sensemaking has given us some useful insights:

Here are the three main things we have learned about remote working and interviewing

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Use qualitative research to solve the problems that puzzle you

This blog post shares with you a new way to think about qualitative research  It's about the ‘tend to agrees’?

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Interviewing as mentoring

While working on our 'Retirement planning' project, Suzanne Burdon and I created a non-linear interview format that allows the person we are interviewing to describe and define in their own words how they were making sense of the world they were experiencing.  This idea is based on the theory of sensemaking. Sensemaking is about how people muddle through, working things out as they go along, to move forward as best they can. It's a theory that rejects the idea that people make decisions in some kind of context-free way.  Sensemaking theory has been applied extensively and productively for several decades in management consulting and information science. I came across it in 2016 and have been writing about and working with sensemaking ideas since then developing a model that suited commercial qualitative research and the kinds of problems for which we receive briefs. 

What sensemaking teaches us about how to interview

Sensemaking teaches us that to expose the assumptions and presumptions of other people we must jettison our own. To do that, we have to jettison the traditional 'topic guide' which in turn means letting go of the traditional role of the interviewer as the person in command of the conversation.

Instead of interrogators with a topic guide, we see our role as mentors, helping the person we are speaking to see the 'mental frame' they are using when they talk and think about this particular issue or problem. How are they making sense of all these different aspects of their life situation, how do they interact, how do they prioritise them, and how in particular do they make sense of the ways in which they might change?

In our retirement example, some people frame retirement as a question of identity - for example thinking of themselves as too young to retire.  Others see retirement as a social problem, trying to manage relationships with an already-retired partner, or with still-working friends.  For some, it has more to do with employment opportunities than with either of these.  

This method of mentoring people towards sensemaking can be used for a wide range of products and services. The more of these mentoring conversations of this kind that we have, the more we are convinced that it is a way to see more clearly exactly how people ‘muddle through’ and work things out (even though that might seem an oxymoron.

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Get more out of focus groups with one-on-one interviews

One very simple way to get more out of focus groups is to conduct individual interviews with group participants afterwards. We do them by phone, but any other method would work just as well. We have been doing this for our victims of crime project.  The benefits are:

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The Art of the Long Interview

We use the 'long interview' qualitative research technique in our research when we want the people we are talking to to think and not just tell us the first thing that comes to mind.

Here are some tips on how to conduct long qualitative interviews.

What is a ‘long interview’?   A long interview is a one-on-one interview that takes at least an hour and is conversational in style.  Some IDI’s (individual in-depth interviews) fall into the ‘long interview’ category, but only if they are conversational and – it has to be said – long.

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One-on-one interviewing

with our theme of 'sense, senses and sensibilities', we do a lot of one-on-one interviewing at Susan Bell Research. I do love one-on-one interviewing because you get to know people in a way that you never can in a group discussion, whatever the format.

Here is a brief summary of the one-day course that I gave on one-on-one interviewing at the AMSRS Winter School in July 2015.1  It was really interesting to learn that  many of the course delegates are doing more and more one-on-one interviews by phone rather than face to face, with relatively little use of technology, so far anyway.

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Bellbird comes out about 4 times a year and covers topics such a user testing, language, discourse analsyis, qualitative research methods, sensemaking, sensory qualitative research, semiotics, and much more!



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