An interview occurs when a researcher engages directly with a participant in a one-on-one or small group setting. While the researcher will know the participant’s identity, the data gathered can still be de-identified to protect the participant. The Board will want to you to provide responses to the following:

  • Where will you conduct the interview?
  • Is this a casual conversation or a formal interview? Both?
  • Will you use an oral consent process or a more formal written consent?
  • How long will the interview take? Will you do more than one interview?
  • What questions will you ask?
  • What will you do if the participant feels uncomfortable about a question? What if a participant talks about something that you don’t want to record such as an illegal behavior?
  • Do you speak the participant’s language or will you need an interpreter?

Not all of the questions above will be relevant to every interview but it is important to think about every facet of the interview, not just the questions. Depending on the type of questions asked and the participants involved, it may be necessary for you to provide a private and discrete place to conduct the interview. The level of engagement (casual versus formal interview) and whether the interview is exempt or not will help to determine what the consent process will look like and what the resulting data will be.

Conducting a Casual Interview

A casual interview happens when the interviewee is approached on an informal basis. The interview is short and identifying information is generally not collected except when the interview may lead to a formal interview. If you don’t collect identifiable information about the individual (written notes only, audio recordings are considered identifiable) and the information you are collecting are considered minimally risky, it isn’t necessary to do a formal consent process, though you should approach your participants by disclosing your identity and your purpose for talking to them (i.e. “Hi, my name is Mary and I’m a researcher from the University of Virginia. I want to ask you a few questions about… Is that okay?”).  You can modify your approach so that it is culturally appropriate, but this should be explained in the Recruitment & Consent section in iProtocol. The participant is usually contacted in a public area through a casual conversation. Please note that there are additional rules for interviewing minors and it is not appropriate to approach a minor without parental consent.

You should stop the interview and continue with a formal interview if the following occurs:

  • It is necessary for you to collect identifying information.
  • You wish to record the interview using an audio, digital, or video recorder and/or you want to take the participant’s picture.
  • The information you are collecting is more than minimally risky to the participant. Be particularly cautious if the participant starts to discuss illegal behaviors (assuming this is not part of your protocol); you should either attempt to redirect the person you are interviewing or stop the interview.  
Conducting a Formal Interview

A formal interview occurs when you make an appointment with a person to conduct a more detailed interview. The location may occur in a more private setting (particularly if the location affects the comfort of the participant and/or any risk involved). Identifying information is more likely collected (though if it is not necessary, don’t collect it as it reduces the risk for the participant not to collect identifying information). In most cases, you will need to obtain consent from the people you interview either through a consent form or oral consent (where appropriate). With the participant’s permission, it is acceptable to use audio, digital, or video recorders to assist in data collection. However, there still may be parameters on what is appropriate to discuss with the participants. For example, if you don’t have a Certificate of Confidentiality, it is not appropriate to discuss illegal behaviors with a participant. If this is a possibility, include a plan in the protocol on what you will do to stop the interview or redirect the participant and remove the information from your research.

Group Interviews/ Focus Groups

Group interviews or focus groups are the least private and confidential option for conducting an interview, which means the Board will be more conservative in evaluating interview questions, etc. In the consent form, you will need to inform participants that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.

Interviews Using a Digital Platform

Whether you conduct an interview in person or using a web chat platform such as Zoom, Google Meet, etc, the above considerations apply. In addition, you should consider taking additional precautions to protect your conversation from nefarious third parties. Become familiar with the platform's security features and apply them to your online interview. For example, see UVA's Zoom Best Practices recommendations. 

Interviews, Consent, and Exemption

Exempt studies are not under the same obligation to obtain consent from participants (though the Board often asks researchers to provide information about the study to participants using a Study Notification). Interviews be exempted if the following are true:

  1. the information is recorded by the investigator in such a manner that the identity of the participant cannot be readily ascertained directly or through identifiers linked to the subject, the investigator does not contact the subjects, and the investigator will not re-identify the subjects.
  2. any disclosure of the participant’s responses outside the research would not reasonably place the participant at risk of criminal or civil liability or be damaging to the subjects' financial standing, employability, educational advancement, or reputation.
  3. if the participant is identifiable, there are adequate measures to protect privacy and confidentiality.

In addition, interviews of prisoners and minors cannot be exempted.

If the protocol qualifies for exemption, the Board does not require researchers to obtain consent from participants. If the protocol does not qualify for exemption, it doesn’t mean that the study can’t proceed. If consent is an obstacle for conducting the study, the Board may consider waiving or altering consent; for example, oral consent may be a better approach for certain studies such as an international ethnographic interview. Otherwise for interviews that don’t meet the exemption qualifications, the Board will require that the researcher obtain consent from participants.

Describing an Interview in iProtocol
  • Describe an interview protocol by creating a Data Source in the Data Source section.
  • Upload an interview questions/protocol in the Data Source Upload (if you want to use additional documentation—this can also be described in the Data Source).
  • If you need permission to conduct an observation, upload any files that document permission in the Permissions section.
  • If you have more than one Data Source and the sources are linked, the Associate Data Sources with Data Sources is the section where you can demonstrate and describe this relationship.
  • The Associate Data Sources with Participant Groups is the section where you can demonstrate the relationship between Participant Groups and Data Sources (if you have more than one of both).