Qualitative interviews are semistructured conversations with individuals who have a certain level of knowledge about or experience with a subject. Respondents can be program participants, neighborhood residents, knowledgeable community members, program administrators or other staff, and elected officials. Interviews can be conducted both in-person and over the phone.

What are interviews used to measure?

Professional interviews for research and evaluation purposes involve an interviewer who structures and directs the questioning. The task for the qualitative evaluator is to provide a framework within which people can respond in a way that accurately and thoroughly represents their experience and point of view (Patton 1987).

Qualitative interviewing is often used in program evaluation and is most useful for capturing and describing program processes, documenting change in programs that are dynamic or evolving and understanding why changes were made, understanding the meaning or purpose of a program to staff or participants, and documenting variations in program implementation at different sites (Sewell n.d.). For many program evaluations, we gather information from a range of stakeholders, including program staff, program participants, and knowledgeable community members external to the program, to get a more comprehensive description of how the program works and how it is perceived externally by the community and participants.

Qualitative interviews can also be conducted with a group of people to better understand an issue or topic and to explore differences between experiences and outcomes.

How do they work?

Interviews use semistructured discussions rather than closed-ended questionnaires (rigidly specified and directly quantifiable questions). A guide is prepared in advance to ensure that specific topics are covered consistently across interviews and interviewers. Semistructured interviews allow the interviewers flexibility in adapting the interview guide to capture variations in program details, the position of the respondent in the program, and the objectives of the interview. Such tailoring requires a clear understanding of the study objectives, careful preparation before each interview, and the ability to “think on your feet.” 

Whether interviewing program staff or participants, conducting interviews individually is important to ensure that each respondent feels free to answer questions openly and honestly and not be inhibited by the presence of a supervisor, coworker, or service provider.


Related research

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Evaluation of the Sectoral Employment Demonstration Program []

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Patton, Michael Quinn. 1987. How to Use Qualitative Methods in Evaluation. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Sewell, Meg. n.d. “The Use of Qualitative Interviews in Evaluation.” University of Arizona Tucson.