This week I ran a pilot version of an interview I will be carrying out with professionals who have experience of working with people living with dementia. Whilst I cannot give details about the interview's content, I can talk about the process. Some of this may seem obvious to some people, whereas to others it might feel unfamiliar. For me, it is a new research method and I am pleased to share my experience below.
Preparation for the Interview
The interview is semi-structured, which means that the interview follows a similar structure for each participant, but allows the interview to progress organically, depending on the responses of the interviewee. The benefit of this is that it allows the interviewee to tell me things that I would not necessarily expect to hear. I think the key lies in probing the participant and exploring what is said in more depth, rather than just writing down single answers to the questions.
I produced an interview schedule with a list of the questions I wanted to ask, grouped under different headings for the different sections of the interview. This document certainly went through a few iterations after some supervisor feedback! The final version clearly outlined the desired outputs of each question of the interview. This approach really resonated with me because it helped me to frame the questions suitably.
In order to help me conduct the interview effectively and efficiently, I wrote approximate timings next to each question and section of the interview, which I needed to test in my pilot. I also drafted a response sheet I could use to capture the comments clearly during the interview.
With all of this in place, I felt ready to interview my first interviewee!
Why Bother with a Pilot?
This is the first time I have conducted a semi-structured interview, and I wanted to make sure I was able to stick to my planned timings and could actually ask appropriate questions during the interview (both of which I feel I did well!).
More generally, running pilots identifies weaknesses in the format of the interview and highlights opportunities for improvement before carrying out the study with "real participants". For example, I noticed some improvements I could make to the documents I had prepared, which will make it a lot easier to take notes in subsequent interviews.
After the pilot, I also realised that I did not yet have the correct provision to store the data I had gathered appropriately. Since I am taking audio recordings of the interviews, and storing personal information about participants, I need to have a dedicated folder that only my supervisors and I can access. I have now made sure this is available to me, and will continue to use this in the future.
It was a great change to "do" some research and to practise carrying out an interview "as a researcher". The pilot also boosted my confidence that I can ask useful follow-up questions and stick to my timings.
Before I recruit for the full study in April I will carry out a second pilot with the updated documents, which will allow me to confirm the changes have been helpful. If all goes well, I'll soon be reporting about my first EngD study. Exciting progress!