The basic qualitative interviewing kit, part 1

The basic interviewing kit

The basic interviewing kit

I’m on the road this week, for the first time in a while.  Just packing up and sorting through my supplies.  My current interview kit is so tiny that I’ve had to invest in a bright stripy pouch from Paperchase in order to stand any change of finding it in the bottom of my bag. 

What do I have?

Olympus digital voice recorder.  These are about £60 at the moment, and this dinky little recorder connects to the computer via USB.  It takes a single AAA battery (essential spare also pictured).  The micrphone on this machine is quite excellent, producing really good sound quality for interviews and group discussions.   When empty there are about 12 hours of recording time available – good for long interviewing days.  Battery life is a bit skittish – it’s easy to leave on by accident – so spares are still important.

I still slightly mourn the demise of my Sony Professional Walkman, where at least you got a physical cassette to keep at the end of every interview, but these are great.

Sony mini noise-cancelling headphones, around £99.  I love these.  They’re comfortable, they’re pretty, and they do exactly what it says on the tine.  Noise-cancelling headphones make it possible to listen back to voice recordings even when you’re in a noisy environment, like a train.  They are also perfect for listening to music and watching DVDs on your laptop.  White means they’re quite hard to lose, too. 

All this fits in one little pouch – tuck in a spare pack of batteries and even a couple of pens, and you’re good to go.

What I did while away, in 7 points

One of the curses of doing work that is usually confidential is that – for me at least – it becomes somewhat difficult to blog about it.   Mix up ‘confidential’ with ‘busy’ and you have a bit of an issue, that I don’t think I’ve really solved yet.   The conventional wisdom is that you write about stuff in the news in your area, and pile in lots of links.    That does work well for many people, but I work across quite a range of areas, and my core area of expertise, market research, is particularly deathly as a news topic. 

I’ve had the pleasure of working on a range of projects for quite varied clients in the last few months, few of which I can talk about.   Some observations, then, from four months of rushing around:

1. Telephone depth interviews are a marvellous method, much underused. They require quite a different approach to face-to-face, but when they go well, there is a great moment of connection with the user at the other end of the phone.  People tell you stuff, in your ear, that they’d probably never confess in a group.

2. Running discussions in viewing studios is like trying to direct a stage play without an actual script. 

3. The most difficult resource on any project is time spent with the client talking about the problem.  These days, many clients spend their entire working lives running from one meeting to another, managing lots of  different things but not able to spend much time on the core work itself. 

4. It is now much easier to get wi-fi connections working in British hotels and offices. Not foolproof, though.  Sigh.

5. The first 10 minutes of any interview or discussion are the most valuable – all the background detail of who, what and when.  We always want to rush on in, but time spent understanding the interviewee and their world is repaid 10 times over when it comes to writing reports.

6. Despite all the moaning about Powerpoint, most of us struggle to write pithy, compelling presentations. What starts out as a jewel of communication turns into an 80-page deck in the twinkling of an eye.

7. Milton Keynes is a so-and-so of a place to drive around in fog.

Where did all the quallies go?

In getting ready to launch this  journal site I’ve been surfing around to find similar sites.  Although I have found some neat blogs created by web expert types, I’ve found very little on qualitative research.  I was hoping to find the equivalent of one of those anonymous-policemen type blogs which expose the raw underbelly of the job but there is surprisingly little.  There may be a little more that I simply can’t unearth, but at first glance it feels that there are genuinely few people writing about this.  The people I have found, I mostly know already. 

This may be down to fear of compromising commercial confidentiality or it might simply be that commercial qual researchers are too damned busy to write about their lives.