My experience in Challenge thus far has been a crash course in many things, but one of the most rewarding has been the opportunity to refine my interviewing skills. Before beginning this fellowship, I was much more familiar with the roles of stockholders than stakeholders. However, the importance of interviewing stakeholders has been heavily impressed upon us fellows as a key piece of human-centered design thinking. Through the past three (and a half) challenges, here are a few things I have picked up about getting the most from one’s stakeholder interviews:

  1. Don’t call it an interview. People associate the word “interview” with less fun things like a job search. For this reason, this word can cause people to be more guarded or even resist being interviewed all together. Alternatively, when one frames an interview as a conversation, a discussion, or a request for insights on a certain topic, the interviewee tends to be more open.  
  2. Prepare a list of questions or topics to guide you, but don’t be rigid about it. If you are anything like me, who has a propensity to blank during interviews, it is helpful to have a list of questions to which you can refer during the conversation. However, I have had better interviews where the conversation has flowed more naturally rather than reading down a list of questions.
  3. Make your interviewee feel valued. Make eye contact and smile while they are sharing. This is a small thing but makes people feel more comfortable. More importantly, it makes them feel listened to. This might involve either taping the conversation (with permission) so you feel comfortable looking away from your notes during the interview, or pairing up with another interviewer who can take turns taking notes.
  4. Write down quotes. Repeat them back to the person if necessary. A direct quote can be useful in trying to extract key takeaways from an interview, and also a way to humanize the findings of your conversation-based research.
  5. Keep your interviewee informed. Let them know why you’re interviewing them from the beginning. Invite them to learn more about the project as much as they are interested. If they have agreed to be interviewed, it is likely that they are passionate about the topic and might desire to be more involved.

Keep these tips in mind and hopefully you can avoid the numerous mistakes I have made as a novice interviewer.  A universal truth is that every other person in the room will always know at least one thing you don’t. In every interview I’ve had, I’ve found that they always know much, much more than that.