Paper 4B

No.2, Service Road
Domlur Layout
BANGALORE 560 071.


James Mascarenhas, MYRADA


The purposes of this note are:

1. To share some ideas and experiences on the subject of interviewing, with other PRA practitioners/beginners.

2. To outline the main guidelines/methods which have been used as a basis from which you can adopt existing methods, invent new ones and further add to and develop the methodology.


Interviewing techniques are an essential skill in any kind of work. This is especially so in rural development where the outsiders’ level of information and understanding about the rural situation is limited. We need to find out more about rural people and rural situations from the rural people themselves.

The word `INTERVIEW’ indicates an interaction between two or more persons and an exchange of views leading to a better understanding. In its true sense it indicates dialogue. In the past such interactions have been lopsided with `us’, the outsiders, presuming to know much more about `them’ (rural people) and their situations than the rural people themselves. Questionnaire surveys and the questionnaire mode of interviewing, also haven’t helped matters. No real communication takes place. Add to this “rural tourism”, with the superior attitude of outsiders, who are doing the rural people a `favour’ by being `good’ enough to `visit’ and `talk’ to them and we have a very one-sided kind of situation.

Good interviewing helps us to gain more accurate insights into rural situations, problems, customs, practices, systems, values and the way rural people think, act and perceive things. This is especially critical while designing rural development programmes meant for the people themselves. Good interviewing facilitates an information flow that is true, authentic and relevant. This information will form a reliable basis for planning. But first, what constitutes a good interview? How do we open that tap which allows a free and easy information flow to take place?


Many of the items listed below will already be known and practiced by you. A short 15 minute session on Do’s and Don’ts of interviewing will help sharpen awareness and enhance the quality of the interviewing and consequently, the outputs too.

a) The Interviewers – Some desirable attributes are :

– sensitivity (to various moods, meanings, nuances, expressions and responses, etc.)

– good interpreters (of various moods, meanings, nuances, expressions and responses, etc.)

– alert – (looking for leads, observing people and things)

– willing learners

– willingness to embrace error (willingness to accept mistakes and learn from them.)

– good facilitators (ability to make people talk and trigger off an information flow that is authentic, interesting and useful to both insiders and outsiders.)

b) Types of interviews:

1. Individual interviews – where the information is of a specific, sensitive, confidential or personal nature. For e.g. the individual’s use of family planning methods or an individual’s personal history or individual stress coping mechanisms. The individual is interviewed alone and in privacy so that :

(i) there are no disturbances/interruptions.
(ii) the interviewee feels free to give information either about him/herself, others, or speak of other sensitive matters.

In this, it is desirable that an atmosphere of trust is established between the interviewer(s) and the interviewee.

2. Group interviews – are of a broader nature and may be based on specific topics. E.g. Agriculture, health, education, seasonality, etc. The information sought is not of a personal or confidential nature. For group interviews a relatively secluded spot slightly away from the village, such as a field or a hill top or under a tree or inside someone’s house – is desirable. Good group interviews can also take place in relatively busy spots such as the village tea shops, market place, bus stop, etc.

3. Informal/Casual/Unexpected Encounters – These may take place at the bus stop, tea shop, or while wandering around the village or fields. Such encounters also contribute a good deal of information often very interesting and useful.

4. Focus Group Discussions – are interviews with a difference : the flow of information is not between the interviewer and the interviewees but more an exchange of views and opinions among the group members themselves. Here the interviewer plays a facilitating role of encouraging people to debate among themselves on the issue being explored, listening in to the discussions rather than leading them, steering them back on course when distractions occur, and helping them progress when there are signs of getting stuck.

c) Interviewees: These would depend on the purpose of the exercise and the information that is sought. In a general PRA it is desirable to get a cross section of the people involved in the interviews. These may include the following categories.

– Big, small and marginal farmers.
– Landless people
– Artisans
– Other occupational groups
– Old, middle aged and young people
– Women.

In a PRA conducted for a specific purpose e.g. tank desilting, it is generally the rule to interact with the users and other interested groups. For e.g. in tank desilting it would mean that the following would have to be contacted and involved:

– farmers in the command area.
– farmers in the area beyond the command, who have irrigation wells.
– farmers in the upper catchment.
– fishermen community who may be dependent on the tank.
– brick makers who may be using the tank bed for brick making.
– women who fetch water from and wash clothes in the tank.
– cattle owners whose animals drink from the tank.
– The tank owners (e.g. Panchayath, Irrigation Department, Forest Department)

In addition to the above, there are also the following categories of people who may be sought out specially:

– the old and wise men of the village.
– the village school teacher.
– local innovators and experimenters.

d) Team: An individual interview should preferably consist of just one interviewer, though a group of 2 or 3 persons is also okay provided it does not overwhelm or threaten the comfort of the interviewee.

In the case of group interviews, the interview team could consist of between 2 to 5 persons, each person with a specific role e.g. INTERVIEWER (or the one who asks questions), RECORDER (the one who writes down information) and OBSERVER (the one who sees that the rules of the game `interviewing’ are being followed). All three roles are extremely important and it is preferable that they are rotated so that everyone has an opportunity to experience different roles. In the course of time each team member may discover what he/she is best skilled at doing.

It is also desirable that the team consists of subject specialists as this enhances the quality of the interview, the processing of information and the final output. E.g. For the topic Animal Husbandry and Fodders – it is useful to have persons on the team who are familiar with the subject and who will be able to relate to the subject and the information that is given (subject specialists need not necessarily be graduates in the concerned discipline).

e) Materials: (Refer Robert Chamber’s paper on PRA Kit) – will depend on the kind of interview. However, in general, a notepad and pen, seeds and counters, (different sized stones will serve quite well as counters), sticks, etc., map material such as Rangoli powder for ground mapping and modelling, `Chapati’ cutouts for venn diagramming or list of families and name slips for wealth ranking will be required. Also required will be sheets of chart or drawing paper, and coloured felt pens for diagramming. You can also think of new things, an abacus, perhaps, or an egg box for matrix ranking.

f) The interview process: After the interview teams have been formed and the interview topics decided upon, there are a few useful steps that could be followed:

1. Understanding the topic – What is the information that we are seeking? Why do we need it?

2. Planning an interview – How will we get this information? From whom? What are the basic sets of questions that we need to ask? How are we going to ask them (mode)? Who plays what role (interviewer, recorder and observer)? Where shall we sit? (ask the farmers!) How best can we present the information? How do we divide up the work amongst ourselves?

Once this is clear the interview can be got on with.

3. During the interview: As already mentioned, being sensitive and alert is important. It is important to catch nuances and seize on leads and openings to gain further information/insights. At the same time, it is required to `cut off’ at a certain point (optimal ignorance). The group should themselves decide what this point is. This helps in efficient time utilisation. As also does `appropriate imprecision’. E.g. we do not need to measure each and every plot or bit of land to arrive at details of total acreage and land use. Approximate percentages will do as well.

You may find the do’s and don’ts listed here useful.



1. Have a short ‘buzz’ session on do’s and don’ts of interviewing. (See MYRADA PRA-PALM Series Paper 4A)

2. Spend time on :

a. Forming the interview team.
b. Fixing the roles and responsibilities.
c. Understanding the topic.
d. Planning the interview.
e. Selecting a spot for the interview.

3. Feel that you are a learner (leave your status, achievements and experience behind).

Show your interest and enthusiasm in learning from people.

Be sensitive to the moods (anger, hurt, boredom, anguish, enthusiasm, etc.) and build on it.

Be alert – look for information and leads, seize upon them and follow up.

Don’t feel superior to the villagers.

Don’t feel that there is nothing more for you to learn.

Don’t hesitate to clear your doubts and curiosities with the farmers – but don’t do it in an ignorant fashion either.

4. Do also Follow protocol as required by the situation. Introduce a culture of making prior appointments with the interviewer/informants as you would do for other important people.

Create an atmosphere of confidence, trust and enjoyment (even women should feel like expressing themselves).

Remember that everyone has something to say. Involve the silent ones especially women.

Avoid conservation monopolies (in case you run into ‘talkers’ take them for a walk so that the others can carry on undisturbed.

Don’t take the villagers for granted – treat them with respect.

Don’t blunder about confused.

Don’t monopolise the interview.

Don’t follow a single track of pursuing something that is of interest only to you.

Listen carefully and facilitate an information flow.

Allow triangulation to take place (i.e. cross checking of information by the farmers themselves).

Terminate ‘bad’ interviews without feeling bad about it. But do try to analyse what went wrong.

Record the names of the informants and give them credit for the information they have given. (How about some tea or sharing lunch with the interviewee?)

Facilitate and control the interview.

DON’T GAS AND DON’T LECTURE. (I’m getting tired of saying this!)

Don’t interrupt unless absolutelynecessary; it disturbs the flow of thought of the interviewee and upsets his/her concentration.

Don’t misinterpret information.

Don’t all talk at the same time – it is confusing.

5. Share the work amongst yourselves and change roles too.

Remember good teamwork is an important part of any successful activity.

6. Check alienation from your group. Involve yourself in what is going on.


1. For interviews with women, we find the older women (the mothers and grandmothers) are more at ease while discussing things with men.

2. Triangulation or refining the information takes place in different ways at different stages and levels. These should be allowed to happen or even induced and in some cases some of these are :

Stage 1 During the interview itself – discussions take place on statements made or on information given. The discussions/cross checking is enhanced if an atmosphere of participation is present.

Stage 2 During the group presentations in the evening – Here there is a larger (hopefully) critical audience who can challenge the presentation. In both cases a discussion should be encouraged and allowed to happen; infact at times even instigated.

Stage 3 Actually pertains to the outsiders making their own verifications/ cross checks. This they will do by:

a) Checking information out with colleagues/other groups either during and after the exercise/ interview.
b) Checking with other farmers.
c) Checking with information obtained from other exercises/practitioners about similar situations/ topics.
d) Checking with secondary data, where such data is available and reliable.