How many times have you conducted an interview?
Did you notice any similarities? Probably.
My friend and colleague, Ellen Taylor-Powell has defined interviews as a method for collecting information by talking with and listening to people–a conversation if you will. These conversations traditionally happen over the phone or face to face–with social media, they could also happen via chat, IM, or some other technology-based approach. A resource I have found useful is the Evaluation Cookbook.
Interviews can be structured (not unlike a survey with discrete responses) or unstructured (not unlike a conversation). You might also hear interviews consisting of closed-ended questions and open-ended questions.
Perhaps the most common place for interviews is in the hiring process (seen in personnel evaluation).
Another place for the use of interviews is in the performance review process (seen in performance evaluation).
Unless the evaluator conducting personnel/performance evaluations, the most common place for interviews to occur when survey methodology is employed.
Dillman (I’ve mentioned him in previous posts) has sections in his second (pg. 140 – 148) and third (pg. 311-314) editions that talk about the use of interviews in survey construction. He makes a point in his third edition that I think is important for evaluators to remember and that is the issue of social desirability bias (pg. 313). Social desirability bias is the possibility that the respondent would answer with what s/he thinks the person asking the questions would want/hope to hear. Dillman goes on to say, “Because of the interaction with another person, interview surveys are more likely to produce socially desirable answers for sensitive questions, particularly for questions about potentially embarrassing behavior…”
Expect social desirability response bias with interviewing (and expect differences in social desirability when part of the interview is self-report and part is face-to-face). Social desirability responses could (and probably will) occur when questions do not appear particularly sensitive to the interviewer; the respondent may have a different cultural perspective which increases sensitivity. That same cultural difference could also manifest in increased agreement with interview questions often called acquiescence.
Interviews take time; cost more; and often yield a lot of data which may be difficult to analyze. Sometimes, as with a pilot program, interviews are worth it. Interviews can be used for formative and summative evaluations. Consider if interviews are the best source of evaluation data for the program in question.