Skip to main content


Jan 2016

Nosy blighters – or qualitative interviewing for best results

Blog posts

Krista Woodley

Krista Woodley

Learning Consultant at Kineo

You’re trying to book a holiday. What’s going to find you the best holiday – a travel company’s website search, which asks when and where you want to go? Or a conversation with a travel agent who can ask you about your preferences and apply their years of experience to asking you the right questions to get the most suitable holiday possible? If they’re asking the right questions they’ll uncover and draw out what you’re really looking for and what you really need, whether that’s elephant trekking in Chiang Mai or lying horizontal by a pool in the Med. 

Getting to the heart of the matter

It is this detailed and strategic questioning that we use to get to the heart of our clients’ business challenges and to devise the best solution. Getting under the skin of your requirements, exploring your situation and circumstances, tapping into the issues that underly the issues, identifying the real needs, the real gaps… Call us nosy blighters, but we want to know everything and we’re not afraid to ask. It’s all about qualitative interviewing - a key methodology in our tool kit for exploring clients’ challenges and problems – and all the better for finding the right solution.

What is qualitative interviewing?

Answer: full, frank and detailed discursive conversation in the form of a question and answer session.

What’s it best for?

Answer: best used for drawing out detailed, opinion-based information. Also good for allowing people to express information that’s complex, contradictory, emotional, anecdotal and subjective – which, let’s face it, is always the kind of information that’s most interesting and arguably takes us to the heart of the matter.  

Qualitative or quantitative?

Of course they both have their place. Quantitative research tends to elicit numerical and yes/no answers and is well-suited for outputting statistical data. And statistical data is useful – it helps us prove our theories, hypotheses and arguments for why we need to do the things we want to do.

Depending on what we are trying to find out, if used together they can make a pretty impressive and thorough case.

How do qualitative interviews solve problems?

To solve a problem we need to understand the problem. And to understand that problem, we need to get inside it, poke around and ask a lot of who, what , why and how.

How does qualitative interviewing allow us to tailor questions to our interviewees?

Interviewing fewer people for more time allows us to do a little background research around each interviewee so we can tailor our questions accordingly. Maybe a bit of research around their role, work environment, check out the organisation’s website, their LinkedIn profile – nothing too creepy – no need for looking at all their holiday photos on Facebook!

Usually we’ll identify a core set of questions that need to be asked of all interviewees and then devise additional questions tailored to the knowledge and experience of each individual.

Why is qualitative interviewing seen as more personal?

Establishing rapport with our interviewee means they’re much more likely to trust us (and our motives), engage wholeheartedly with the interview and share information freely. Equally, they’ll feel more relaxed and likely to recall useful information and make helpful connections.

Some people get nervous being interviewed, so we make an effort to make them feel at ease and even enjoy the process. After all, if someone is giving us an hour of their time for an interview the least we can do is make it as pleasant as possible.

Why is qualitative interviewing seen as the best approach for complex subjects?

Although we may have a list of questions, the interviews are still essentially unscripted and spontaneous. Apart from anything else this encourages listening to the answers given rather than fretting about what is the next question on the list! 

We use lots of open questions to elicit rich answers, which can take the conversation in all sorts of directions. In following up hints and pursuing tangents we can discover and explore information that we might not have anticipated.

Just like in a Miss Marple…

When we see a big fat clue dropped, we know something will come of it – and we know we have to chase it up, otherwise we’ll miss out.

By the same token, a free flowing conversation enables us to untangle any apparent contradictions and complexities. As a methodology, it frees us from having to take information at face value.

 What are the disadvantages of qualitative interviewing?

As already mentioned, it is relatively time-consuming and might reach a smaller sample of people than with a quantitative survey.  For example, if we’ve created an online survey, it would be quick and easy to double the number of respondents.

Equally it can be difficult to reduce information gathered from qualitative interviews into convenient statistics. Its very strength is in its complexity and richness, which can be tricky to summarise.

Some people feel that qualitative is less reliable or ‘objective’ because it relies on the ‘subjective’ opinions of the interviewee. However, without getting too philosophical, all information is subject to human subjectivity and the methodology of qualitative interviewing at least make us conscious of this.

The success of a qualitative interview relies on an extent on the researcher’s skills along with a variety of external forces that are in play at the moment of interview; not least “Are the trains cancelled?”, “Did my interviewee get out of the wrong side of bed this morning? Or did I?”. But once again, you could say similar things of quantitative interviews.

Is that it then?

Yes, interview over.

Nosiness satisfied. Like we said earlier, the information given in a qualitative interview is rich and interesting and can be hard to summarise. But let’s give it a go…

In short, qualitative interviewing is invaluable to us as a method of investigating our customers’ needs. Not only does it help us mine a rich seam of knowledge and experience, it allows us to get even further under the skin of our customers’ culture and challenges, and put us in the best possible position to provide a solution.

As Galileo is said to have said, “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” And isn’t that the point of qualitative interviewing?

Krista Woodley

Krista Woodley

Learning Consultant at Kineo

Krista has been in the elearning industry for over 15 years and is a Learning Consultant at Kineo. She advises and defines creative solutions for blended, campaign-based and elearning-focused projects.

Leave us your comments