7/18/16 – This post is a continuation of the update from the team of GSSE MBA students working on energy access in Uganda. You can read their first post here.
During this summer of research, we have found that the process of interviewing, and especially interviewing through a translator, requires skill and nuance. This expertise is not possible to learn in the classroom because it takes experience and practice to create the right atmosphere to put people at ease. Here are some of the tactics we used:
From the beginning, our team chose to break into two groups so that there were never more than two foreigners talking to someone. It worked out well and we rotated the combination of people so that we worked together in different pairs.
- When we were conducting depth interviews, one person was the interviewer working with our translator and the other was the note taker. The interviewer concentrated on the interview questions but didn’t write anything down. The note taker hardly spoke and was responsible for transcribing everything that was said. We chose to rotate interviewer and note taker roles as well, although we found some people gravitate towards one role over the other.
- It was very interesting using a translator, and we found at the beginning we were talking directly to him and then listening to his answer when he translated. After a few interviews, we felt very disconnected from the villager we were talking to. It was as if we were having a conversation with just our translator. So, we changed our strategy and instead of directing questions and looking at our translator, we instead looked at the person we were interviewing and directed questions in the first person. The question would then be translated, but this allowed us to make eye contact with the interviewee and, even though he/she didn’t understand our language, it worked out really well because it felt more like a conversation with that person.
- We consciously practiced different interview techniques because some people wouldn’t look us in the eye, so we experimented with what actions put people at ease and when to make eye contact, when to smile, how to sit, when/if we should lean forward or back, etc.
These skills evolved out of practice, and despite months of prep in the classroom, we couldn’t have learned and adapted and improved without being in the field. In addition to the information gathered during this summer practicum experience, the chance to implement these skills has been invaluable.