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How to use this manual
What is formative research?
What do you want to know?
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In-depth interviews
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An in-depth interview is a conversation with an individual conducted by trained staff that usually collects specific information about one person. Every agency conducts some kinds of interviews, whether it’s talking to a colleague about their job, conducting client intake, chatting with friends at the AIDS Update Conference, talking with clients before or after a workshop, or checking in with the high school nurse.

In-depth interviews are often used when an agency doesn’t know much about a population and wants to get preliminary ideas from the participants. Some agencies use in-depth interviews to obtain information that they can then use to develop quantitative surveys once they have a better handle on what’s going on with their participants. Others find that interviews give them all the information they need without conducting a later survey.

When you obtain your data via in-depth interviews you usually have a smaller sample and do not use random methods to select your participants. As a result, the results may not generalize to people who were not interviewed.

How are they used?

In-depth interviews can help:

•    Provide a history of behavior. When conducted more than once or when conducted with someone who has been in the community for a long time, interviews can show if any change has occurred over time.

•    Highlight individual versus group concerns. Topics that may not arise in a group situation can be addressed in individual interviews.

•    Reveal divergent experiences and “outlier” attitudes. Groups often do not allow you to see that experiences may vary person to person.

•    Provide a shortcut to community norms. Interviewing key community leaders (bartenders, favorite teachers, police officers, sex club managers) can give a fast overview of a community and its needs and concerns.

•    Develop other research tools. Results from an interview can be used to generate focus group questions or help form questions for a survey.In-depth interviews can be different from focus groups in several ways:

•    Easier. It is often easier to speak to one person and keep her attention than to address a group. You can also avoid major scheduling hassles with only one person.

•    More detailed. In an interview you have a chance to follow-up on questions and probe for meaning.

In-depth interviews can be more appropriate than focus groups in certain cases, even if agencies are looking for community norms. For example, some men who have sex with men (MSM) may not be used to speaking openly in a group. To get input on a program designed for Vietnamese MSM, for example, individual interviews might be the best solution.

NOTE: Often interviews are the best way to engage low-literacy populations. Structured interviews can take the place of questionnaires for clients who may have difficulty filling out forms.

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Good Questions, Better Answers --  1998 California Department of Health Services and Northern California Grantmakers AIDS Task Force  --