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John: my first time

“Oh bloody hell, I hope I’m not asking leading questions!? What even are those? Have I already said one? Quick, pay attention to what they are saying. Show you’re interested, nod your head. They sound like they are winding up, what’s your next question. I can’t remember! WHAT’S MY NEXT QUESTION! HELP!”

This was my inner monologue during my first ever IDI. For those of you who read my first blog for Dub, you’ll know that up until university, I had never even considered the social sciences as a career path. However, after the haze of an introductory fortnight, I found myself faced with the challenge of conducting some real field work.

Well, I say real. In order to practice and hone our infant research skills, we were required to pick from a hypothetical list of studies and then interview a peer. Not quite as daunting as the first session in an actual project, but it was still a step out of our comfort zones. Especially as peer friendships were yet to be fully formed, the exercise itself was to be graded and, most importantly, it was a trial run for later modules where we would need to aid professors in their own field work.

So with all of these pressures swirling around behind my eyes, my topic selected (something on sport and gender) and my classmate in attendance, I set my voice recorder down and duly started to panic.

If I am honest, other than my personal mental ramblings, I couldn’t tell you much about what happened in that interview. Which is a good indicator of my skills at that time, and how successfully the session went. In an attempt to try and cover all the points we had started to learn (body language, tone, micro-expressions, initial and sustained identity presence, exploratory questioning, adaptive rapport, information recollection etc), I alternated between blurting out half-formed questions and staring at my classmate's forehead in paralysed silence. The only consolation prize to be found was that my participant was soon going to experience the exact same concoction of fear when the tables turned and they took charge.

Stepbrothers interview - Dub, mobile qual and insight communities

Whilst it was mortifying at the time, in hindsight it was a good exercise. Not only because it was the first step along the road to developing finely honed research techniques, but also because we got to experience sessions from the side of the interviewee. This is something which I think can often get overlooked by many researchers in our drive for data. Although we try to make things interesting and engaging, sometimes we do so in a detached and distant manner that ignores how we would actually respond were we to sit through a 45 minute session. Taking a step in front of the camera, recorder or screen, and playing the role of a participant is a brilliant reminder to use methods (in and out of the actual session) that not only gather information but facilitate personal connections.

Now I won’t lie and say that after this single session I became a consummate professional at moderating interviews and focus groups. Similarly, my initial attempts at creating effective surveys or analysing data left much to be desired. However, perseverance and non-stop training over the course of many years led to a familiarity and expertise which now informs a natural selection of methods to suit a desired brief. Yet even now, at the start of any project, I still think about that first session and use it to not only remind myself that there is always something to be learnt, but also ask myself a vital question:

“If I were a participant, would this be valuable to me?”


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