The interviewer needs to engage with the interviewees in a way that establishes a trustful relationship with the interviewees.
Some methods for creating an atmosphere of trust include the following:
- In some cases it might be useful that a project partner or PTB staff participates at least at the beginning of the interview as "door opener".
- The interviewers might introduce themselves in a short video or a virtual kick-off session prior to the interview itself.
- It might be helpful to allocate some time for warming up through small talk and also during/after breaks (if applicable).
- Reactions from the interviewer such as nodding or a certain sense of humour can make interviews more "natural".
- Considering the limited opportunities for informal and non-verbal communication in virtual settings, good experiences have been made with raising an open-ended question in the beginning of the interview. This allows the interviewee to come up with her/his relevant ideas and reactions which might not be part of the interview guide, e.g. “when you think of the project, what three things come to your mind first?”.
Asking questions needs to be more thought out than in in-person meetings.
Some considerations include:
- It might be necessary to formulate questions in a more comprehensive and clear way. The questions should, nevertheless, be formulated in an open and systematic way.
- It is important to establish a dialogue, e.g. link questions to previous statements of current or previous interviewee or ask the interviewee to comment on statements by the interviewer that reflect the interviewer’s analysis so far.
- The interviewer should ask not only purely factual questions, but also actively elicit analysis and personal assessment from the interviewee. It is often important to not only know the facts, e.g. the level of achievement of a result, but also to be aware of the sometimes divergent personal perceptions and assessments of the interviewees. In this way a more comprehensive picture of the “reality” of the project emerges.
- While questions and answers are the essence of an interview, pauses are also a natural and integral part of the conversation.
More effort is needed by the interviewer to correctly interpret the statements of the interviewees due to missing context, less non-verbal communication, etc. To compensate, the interviewer should try to pay attention as much as possible to additional non-verbal cues such as atmosphere, facial expression, body language, surroundings. Another useful method is for the interviewer to reformulate the answer that was just given and ask for its validation or to simply ask for further clarification such as “can you give an example” or “can you explain this in a little bit more detail”.
The interviewer needs to monitor the time and stick to the time limits as to not exceed the concentration span of the interviewee. This should, however, not lead to focussing too much on technical facts and neglecting the soft factors, the social level or subjective perceptions. Remote interviews have the advantage that, if time runs out, a follow-up contact (another interview or a message exchange) can be arranged more easily, if necessary.
Interviews can be mixed with other methods such as online surveys, videos, real-time polls or creative methods. Additional information can be shared by inserting video clips on relevant environment such as laboratories, etc. If necessary, interviews can be supplemented by observations, virtual laboratory visits or similar virtual tours to gain a better understanding of the situation on the ground.
If several people are interviewed at once, it needs to be assured that everyone gets a chance to contribute to the discussion. Hierarchies among the interviewees also need to be considered.