An exchange in which a person asks questions and a respondent provides answers for the purpose of data collection

Area of application

Interviews are a commonly used instrument to gather qualitative information for project evaluations, project planning, research studies or other areas of application.


In most cases, the interviewer questions a single individual. In some cases, the interviewee or the interviewer might wish to include several people per institution, to gather complementary perceptions or to combine different hierarchy levels. Focus group interviews bring together interviewees from various institutions or settings to combine diverse perspectives.

The interviewers and interviewees (and interpreter, if applicable) might be all present in one location or join the online meeting from various locations.  If interviewers and/or interviewees gather in one location, they might use a joint screen and/or a joint camera. Such mixed arrangements may also be an option to overcome some of the obstacles mentioned below.

In general, cameras should be switched on all the time, unless the internet connection does not allow it; the microphones should be switched on while talking. However, it should be kept in mind that some interviewers or interviewees prefer to interact without switching on the camera, because they can better concentrate and develop empathy by just following the voice, or because it creates a "safe space" not to be observed.

Virtual mode

The main challenge of virtual interviews compared to face-to-face ones is to build up an atmosphere of trust in which the interviewee feels comfortable to share information openly and freely. In addition, there might be practical challenges such as scheduling due to a time difference or technical difficulties. The main advantage is easier access to diverse interviewees, by reaching those in remote areas or by including an interpreter.


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.


It is recommended that the interviewer has gathered telephone numbers of interviewees in advance, so that she or he can directly contact them if the videoconferencing connection does not work. A backup videoconferencing tool can be offered, if the main tool is not accessible for interviewees or they do not have the necessary permissions to use it.

A meeting with the interpreter can be set up in advance to test the connection quality and to introduce him/her to the field of expertise.

Enough buffer time should be scheduled between interviews. Online interviews often start later or take longer than originally foreseen. Therefore, there should be enough buffer time for the interviewers to take a break between interviews.

A longer interviewing time period should be foreseen in the work plan if multiple interviews are to be conducted, so that requests for rescheduling can be accommodated and there is sufficient time to process the collected information (e.g. systematise interview notes). At the same time, interviews should not be scheduled too far apart in order not to lose momentum.




The advantage of virtual interviews compared to face-to-face meetings is that no travel time is required as well as no travel costs and no carbon footprint. The interviews can be scheduled in a sequence that follows content dramaturgy instead of practical logistical considerations such as the geographic proximity of interviewees, which are important during (short) field visits or missions in a project country.



Compensation for the working time of interviewers and, if necessary, interpreters needs to be budgeted. The budget is probably reduced compared to face-to-face interviews, as there is no travel time and travel costs, and as interpreters might be included in a more flexible way. On the other hand, the preparation of more concentrated and focused interviews might increase working time.

Budget for backup communication options which are not free of charge should be included in the consultant’s contract.



Ideally, the interview will be conducted via a videoconferencing tool that is easily accessible and free of charge and that provides sufficient data security for the interviewers and the interviewees.

For translation and interpretation, a three-way connection with the interpreter can be set up, where he/she interprets consecutively. If time is limited, a separate communication channel, e.g. via mobile messenger, can be opened for simultaneous interpretation. Calling a landline phone using skype credit is an alternative. However, if this also fails, it should be possible to make a classical phone-to-phone call.



The following roles are involved in organising and conducting an interview:

might be project staff or the interviewer himself/herself. The organiser contacts the interviewee to set up the interview appointment, agree on a videoconferencing tool and collect their contact details including a phone number in case other tools fail. In some cases, it could be useful to supplement the interview invitation with a letter by the partner line ministry or another senior role which encourages participation in the interview and increases response rates. It might also be helpful to send a calendar invitation and / or a reminder with the access information to the videoconferencing room. Depending on the videoconferencing tool to be used, the organiser might need to schedule and host it.

If there is an interview guide or a background document, the interviewer might decide to share it with the interviewee, in which case it should be sent on time.


Suzana Lange
Katharina Telfser
Christian Seufert

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