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Methods Activity #3. Open-ended Interviewing
Social scientists, journalists, lawyers, consultants, and doctors all share the need for skill in conducting interviews to learn something about their clients or research participants. In the previous two methods activities, we practiced two common methods used by anthropologists: free listing (to identify common terms in a cultural domain) and pile sorting (to see how people categorize and rank those terms). In this methods activity, we will practice open-ended interviewing, which can help us learn how people from different backgrounds feel, think, and reason about a specific topic. An open-ended interview involves a number of open-ended questions about a specific topic, that allow the participant to respond with a great deal of latitude.
For this exercise, we will focus on the topic of needle exchange programs.
You can choose anyone to interview. However, if you would like to find a partner from class, please use the appropriate Canvas discussion board to reach out to potential partners.
Please see the attached Spradley article
for more information on how to conduct interviews. Here are some key things to consider.
Rapport. Interviews are just one kind of social interaction, and so it can be helpful to develop rapport with your interviewee during the interview. Some strategies for developing and maintaining rapport include: (1) starting the interview with some pleasant small talk (e.g., “How are you doing?”), (2) remind the interviewee that you care about what they have to say and that there are no “right” answers, (3) acknowledge the value of the participant’s responses and avoid judging their responses either verbally or through facial expressions, (4) thanking the interviewee at the end of the interview.
Probing. An important part of open-ended interviewing is identifying terms, idioms and reasons that require more clarification and asking follow-up questions. For example, if your participant says that “needle exchanges are immoral”, one potential follow-up question would be “In what ways do you see needle exchanges as being immoral?” If a participant says, “needle exchange programs can help drug users,” try probing by asking “In what specific ways can they help?” Often, you may end up probing at several levels for a single response.
Avoid imposing your own view. Remember that you are trying to learn about participant’s perspective, so it is important to avoid imposing your own views, ideas, reasons, and thoughts during the interviews. That said, you can repeat back to the participant things that they have already said. For example, “You list [fill in] and [fill in] as possible negative consequences of needle exchanges. What are other possible negative consequences?”
Instructions. Find a willing participant who has 20-30 minutes for an interview.
Introduce yourselfto the participant and spend a few minutes developing rapport
Introduce the topic:
“I’m going to be asking you some questions about needle exchange programs. Needle exchange programs are community-based programs that provide access to sterile needles and syringes and facilitate safe disposal of used syringes for injection drug users. If you feel uncomfortable answering any of the questions, please just let me know.”
Ask the following questions, includingprobing for more information. Use probing follow-up questions to askabout specific terms, idioms and reasons that the participant replies with. Take notes of your participant’s responses to your questions for the assignment submission.
“What do you know about how needle exchange programs work and the services they provide?”
“What do you think are the benefits of needle exchange programs?”
“What do you think are the disadvantages or cons of needle exchange programs?”
“How would you feel if needle exchange programs were legal in your states?”
Write-up your methods activity for submission.
Provide at least one paragraph description of your participant’s responses to each question (at least one paragraph for each question).
Provide one paragraph describing specific situations where you tried to probe for clarification.
Provide a one paragraph reflection. How easy or difficult was it to avoid imposing your own views during the interview? How could the interview have been conducted better? What are some other topics where open-ended interviews would be useful, and why?
This submission can be longer than one page.
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