One of my main learning experiences in our project was my involvement in the development of the interview manual. Due to my psychological background, I was used to quantitative research, working with questionnaires or experimental paradigms.
But this was a completely new challenge: How do you get people to trust you as an interviewer enough to share personal stories with you? And how do you have to formulate your questions that you are most likely to get to the nucleus of the personal story while avoiding general statements or opinions about conflict parties? The whole team agreed on the main goal of our interviews being to get to hear narratives of concrete personal experiences that are related to the conflict without general political statements about the conflict itself. In the process of working
on the interview manual, I asked another fellow of the Melton Foundation for help. She is really experienced in qualitative research and used personal interviews as the main method or her research.
In the call, she shared a lot of general best practices with us. She reminded us of the fact to focus less on questions but use more phrase like “Please tell me your story/all the experiences that come to your mind. I won’t interrupt you but (take some notes and) take up some of the points you mentioned later on”. We also decided to not use any W-questions at all because they were most likely to just produce arguments instead of personal stories.
Besides, she stressed out to emphasise the importance of a trustful and calm interview atmosphere. Based on her recommendations, we decided to find a quiet and safe place for the interviews to take place. We would start by introducing ourselves and tell people why we are conducting those interviews. After asking them if they agree with being recorded, we would start the recording right away so that people would hopefully forget about it over time.
We assured people that the introductory questions would not be part of the interview and that they would, overall, see and confirm all the material before we publish it, though. One of my biggest fears and insecurities was how we as interviewers would react if the interviewees would start crying while sharing emotional stories. Apart from being honest and empathic, I was especially thankful for one advice: tell the interviewees how their emotions appear to you without any judging or pity, offer them to take a break and give them as much time as they need. I felt like this would be a really helpful way to not intrude into their private space while being an empathic and active listener in the process of the interview.