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Evaluation
  EUROPA > European Commission > EuropeAid > Evaluation > Methodology > Evaluation tools > Interview
Last updated: 03/05/2005
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Interview

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Interview
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WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR USING INTERVIEWS?

What is the purpose of an interview?

The use of interviews in evaluation is inevitable. This tool collects information and points of view, and analyses them at each stage of the evaluation.
The interview usually takes the form of a face-to-face discussion between the evaluator and the interviewee.

Where does this tool come from?

Interviews are used in many fields, such as psychology, ethnology, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy.
In psychology, this tool focuses on motivation, or the reasons for a person's behaviour. The interview is thus used to study human actions and to help with the understanding of the human psyche.
In ethnology, the interview aims mainly at collecting direct observations. In sociology, the interview is used in all activities.

Three types of interviews and their contribution to the evaluation

Unstructured interviews
The interviewee expresses himself/herself freely and can discuss unplanned topics, because there is no predetermined set of questions. The evaluator intervenes only to generate and develop questions relating to the interviewee's comments.
This type of interview is particularly interesting at the start of an evaluation, in order to get a global view of the subject, and identify the major topics and issues.

Semi-structured interviews
The evaluator modifies the interview guide's instructions with additional questions, in order to develop useful areas of inquiry during the interview.
This type of interview is the most frequently used, particularly when the evaluator knows sufficient about the aims and the main questions to pose during the evaluation.

Structured interviews
The evaluator follows strictly the interview guide's instructions. He asks different interviewees the same set of questions, in the same order, and using the same words. The evaluator avoids generating and developing additional questions, and the interviewee is not given the opportunity to express himself/herself freely. Answers to each question tend to be short. Structured interviews are seldom used in evaluation, where the evaluator needs to adapt to the situation. However, they can be used to classify points of view and information about the impact of a project/programme by categories. Thereafter, the evaluator can use the results of these interviews to design a questionnaire, with a view to analysing the impact of the project/programme.

Semi-structured interviews are the most commonly used tool in evaluation and are the subject of further guidance.

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WHEN SHOULD THE INTERVIEW BE USED?

What kind of information does the interview collect?

The interview may be used as a quantitative collection tool; however, it is mostly a qualitative device.
In evaluation, the use of interviews is simple, quick, and affordable.
The interview collects:

  • Facts and information for the verification of facts
  • Opinions and perspectives
  • Analyses
  • Suggestions
  • Reactions to the evaluator's hypotheses and conclusions

However, a series of interviews is not sufficient to quantify an event, because the answers are not standardised. This is the main difference between the interview and the questionnaire.

The added value of the interview
Among other advantages, this tool is essential for the development of analyses because it collects information taken directly from the context. Thus, it provides a good indication of what motivates stakeholders to act, their various perceptions of the programme's aims, problems encountered and effective outcomes.

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Can the interview be combined with other collection tools?

The interview is a useful device for developing hypotheses and analyses. It can highlight the programme's aims and dynamics, the stakeholders' rationale, and the organisation of the various opinions and perceptions of the programme.
Depending on the type of observation tool used and on the stage of the evaluation, the interview can be used in combination with other tools:

  • To test the main questions to address at the beginning of the evaluation with a view to preparing a series of focus groups.
  • To be the main observation tool, and be supported by a questionnaire (if the country's general context allows it) or, for example, a focus group of beneficiaries.

How should the interview be conducted?

Usually, the interview takes the form of a face-to-face discussion. This arrangement is particularly effective, as the relationship builds on trust and interviews supplement written information.
However, beyond verbal information, other elements should be taken into account, such as the context, the general mood of the session, the people likely to influence the interviewee, etc, as well as the interviewee's reactions: hesitation, silence, eye contact, etc.

From whom does the interview collect information?

The interview is a suitable tool for collecting information, analysing and forming conclusions from a limited (but essential) number of respondents, such as:

  • Partners and people in charge of the evaluated policy or programme
  • Strategic institutional stakeholders
  • Main operators and people in charge of the programme implementation
  • Representatives of beneficiaries

To find out more:


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AT WHAT STAGE OF THE EVALUATION SHOULD THE INTERVIEW BE CONDUCTED?


Types of interview appropriate to various stages of the evaluation
Stages of the evaluation Type of interview The interview's contribution to the evaluation
Desk phase:
implementation of the methodology and preparation of the mission to the country
Preparatory interview

used for the design of questionnaire grids and the selection of respondents. At this stage, interview guides should be flexible and aimed at highlighting the topics on which the interview is based.
It strengthens the basis for the choice of major topics and issues, and completes the questionnaire grid.

Its structure should be flexible.
   
Collection of information in the country and from the European Commission The interview is

designed to collect information and perspectives. Several interview guides should be developed to correspond to the different categories of respondents, and to the major topics and issues.
It collects information on the programme's objectives and outcome from the people in charge of the programme, operators, stakeholders and beneficiaries.
   
Analysis and preparation of judgements In-depth interviews for presenting and investigating the issues, used to collect reactions to the evaluator's findings and analyses. At this stage, the evaluator can test the relevance and the feasibility of his/her conclusions. It collects feedback from respondents. It gives in-depth information and reformulates old questions.
   


To find out more:


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WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES AND THE LIMITATIONS OF THE INTERVIEW?

The advantages

The interview is appropriate for project evaluation, as well as for more complex evaluations, such as sector evaluations and country/region evaluations, where it should be combined with other tools.

The limitations



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WHAT ARE THE PRE-CONDITIONS FOR THE USE OF THE INTERVIEW IN EVALUATION?

The time span

The preparation for the interview does not take long.

To find out more:

One expert will not be able to conduct many interviews per day and, therefore, the number of interviews which can be carried out during the mission is limited. In practice, at the interviewee's request, the expert may conduct an interview with several respondents at the same time. Thus, this particular usage of the interview increases the opportunity for collecting the information required in a relatively short time.

Human resources

Interviews must be conducted by a trained professional. The necessary skills are:

  • Thorough knowledge of the major topics and issues addressed in the evaluation
  • Excellent interviewing skills:
  • The ability to quickly understand the respondent's perspective (his/her interest in the interview, whether he/she has expressed himself freely, whether he/she has committed himself) in order to be interactive and, where appropriate, modify the questions

Financial resources

Costs depend on the number of interviews and their physical location in the country. However, apart from professional fees and transportation costs, the interview itself does not lead to substantial costs.



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