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Evaluation Interviewing... and the art, awkward, and absurdity of asking questions

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

How on earth do you ask another person a question?


Seriously. Have you met people?


All kidding aside, questions underpin many of our most meaningful interactions as humans. Questions are how we form relationships, learn, play, and grow.


Blurting out words with an upward inflection rarely results in valuable answers. Questions that aim to solve a problem or elicit specific information require expertise to frame and deliver.


Plus, people don’t just answer questions. We sidestep, ramble through, forget, and impose new questions. That’s if we engage at all. How often has someone asked you a question, and you’ve thought, “how would I even answer that” or “that is none of your business” ? When in doubt, laugh nervously and change the subject.


Let’s face it; a lot can go wrong when we interrupt someone’s internal monologue to ask a question. Of course, a lot can go right too. This elegant and imperfect technique for gathering information requires thoughtfulness, practice, and patience.


As I approach my 200th interview, I want to pay tribute to my very favourite data collection tool and share some of my reflections, lessons learned, and strategies. As Jennica and I are adding a new imaginative interviewing module to our Arts-Based Methods Course, we are having many nerdy chats about interviewing. So, this felt like a good time to share some of our deeply humbling and hopefully informative reflections.

 

These interviewing posts may be helpful for evaluators whose practice (like mine) centres on the following core beliefs:

  1. Subjectivity is inevitable, not the enemy (yes, I know people have big feelings about this).

  2. Data are co-created, not discovered or captured.

  3. Context matters and should inform study or evaluation design.

  4. People are messy weirdos, and we cannot control for that.

 

If this vibe feels right to you, join me as I explore interview structure & scope, strategies for refining the interview tool, blunders, and future directions.


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