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Ask Better Questions

If you will be conducting interviews, the Productivity during Pandemic talk “Better Interview Questions” with Allison Van can help you with the first step: figuring out your questions.

Jan 23, 2021

 Written by Abbe Edelson

If you will be conducting interviews, the Productivity during Pandemic talk “Better Interview Questions” with Allison Van can help you with the first step: figuring out your questions. 

Allison Van

Van is the executive director of Spark and an expert in mixed-methods applied research.  Over her career, she has conducted over 1000 research interviews.  So not surprisingly, she has a few opinions.

Van started with a checklist of “easy advice” for approaching developing questions and your interview approach:

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Check for assumptions or bias
  • Time it
  • Overlap when feasible
  • Tailor it to the interviewee
  • Give them room
  • Ease in
  • Focus on being conversational
  • Props can be helpful
  • Be brave

Van emphasizes the importance of recognizing your own positionality in an interview.

“Positionality refers to how differences in social position and power shape identities and access in society.”

It is important to recognize that you do not know the experience of your interviewee, but you do know your own relationship to power. As someone who is educated and is associated with the university, as the person doing the interview, you may be viewed in ways you do not view yourself.

  

Photo by Iulia Mihailov on Unsplash

Her discussion of positionality made me think of when I conducted research with participants of community-based planning groups in Toronto. At that time, I was a homeowner and found it helpful to discuss that in my interviews.  Tenants felt vulnerable and feared displacement.  Acknowledging that I didn’t have the same fears, but cared deeply regardless, was not always easy. Yet being open and transparent helped to break down barriers and build rapport between myself and the interviewee.

Van discusses how, when developing questions, it is important to separate out what you want to know from how you will ask it, emphasizing that they are not the same thing.  Van emphasizes that interviews are not neutral for respondents, and the questions you ask and how you ask them matter.

 

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

In “Better Interview Questions” Van offers a great deal of insight into the issue of positionality and how to mediate it, combined with invaluable practical tips on how to prepare your questions.

Watch it at: https://www.macvideo.ca/media/1_v13ago4h