Interviews are a far more personal form of research than questionnaires. In the personal interview, the interviewer works directly with the respondent. Unlike with mail surveys, the interviewer has the opportunity to probe or ask follow-up questions. And, interviews are generally easier for the respondent, especially if what are sought are opinions or impressions. Interviews can be very time consuming and they are resource intensive. The interviewer is considered a part of the measurement instrument and interviewers have to be well trained in how to respond to any contingency.
Interview schedules are established protocols, usually written, detailing the procedures and the questions to be asked in a structured interview.
Constructing the interview schedule
The interview schedule has at least four distinct sections: the warm-up, exploration of discussion points, the core discussion section and a summary.
Structuring an interview Schedule
The warm-up: This section has the objective of creating an atmosphere conducive to an open and free-flowing discussion. One technique that can be used to break down the initial bashfulness among group members who, in most instances, are strangers to one another is to divide them into pairs and exchange simple facts about themselves (e.g. their names, details of the families, place of work, interests etc.). Each group member is then asked to introduce their neighbor to the rest of the group.
The warm-up phase of the session then moves on to encourage the group members to engage in a free-ranging discussion around the topic upon which the discussion will eventually focus. For example, a municipal authority considering establishing a new fruit and vegetable wholesale market positioned outside a congested city centre would ultimately wish to determine what innovative facilities might attract traders to use the new market which is less convenient to them in terms of location. During the warm-up phase the moderator will direct the discussion in such a way as to obtain general information on how participants currently behave with respect to the topic, issue or phenomenon under investigation. The emphasis is upon a description of current behavior and attitudes. For instance, the traders would be asked to describe their own modes of operation within the wholesale market as well as those of fellow traders.
Exploration of discussion points: In this phase the discussion moves on to the participants' attitudes, opinions and experiences of existing products, services (or in this case facilities) and on to what they like and dislike about those products/services. With reference to the wholesale markets example, at this stage traders would be invited to comment on the advantages and disadvantages of the facilities within which they currently operate.
Core discussion: This part of the group discussion focuses directly upon the principal purpose of the research. The flow of the session moves on to the participants' perceptions of new concepts, possible developments or innovations. The wholesale traders, for instance, would be guided towards discussing peri-urban wholesale markets and the kinds of facilities which might attract traders like themselves. A common approach is to follow a sequence of first exploring the ideas which participants generate themselves and then to solicit participants' reactions to ideas preconceived by researchers, or their clients, about possible future developments.
Summary: The final phase of the focus groups session allows participants to reflect upon the foregoing discussion and to add any views or information on the topic that they may have previously forgotten or otherwise have omitted. A common tactic is to conclude the session by inviting the group, as well as its individual members, to "advice the manufacturer" (or whoever) on the issue at hand.