Background information on semi-structured interviews

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Background information on semi-structured interviews

The DHHS Outcomes Reporting Framework allows for information gathered through client interviews to be used as a source of evidence of outcomes. This is an example of 'qualitative' data being used as evidence. However, for the information to have value you need to do what is called a semi-structured interview.

A semi-structured interview is like a conversation that you’ve prepared for. A structured interview is like talking someone through a questionnaire.

Semi-structured interviews require quite a bit of organisation and preparation. They are interviews which have the structure of a prepared set of questions. But they’re only semi-structured – the questions are open-ended, intended to prompt discussion. The person being interviewed isn’t limited to choosing an answer from a pre-determined list, they can respond how they’d like. And the interviewer has lots of opportunities to explore interesting or relevant themes as they emerge during the interview.

Semi-structured interviews are most useful if you want to:

  • study a specific situation
  • add to or explain reporting information coming from other sources
  • understand the perceptions and opinions of a group of people
  • get an insight into particular problems.

Many community service workers like the idea of using semi-structured interviews to collect outcomes information because they build on the interpersonal skills and relationships that workers have. However, they take a bit of work – some estimates are that each interview takes about two day’s work (preparation, doing the interview and analysing the information afterwards). So you need to decide if semi-structured interviews are the best way for you to gather the information you want.

The good things about semi-structured interviews are that:

  • they can provide reliable, comparable, descriptive data
  • you (the interviewer) can ask follow-up questions about topics raised by your interviewees
  • they let the person being interviewed express their views in their own way.

And if you are interested in people, how they see their lives and what has happened to them, semi-structured interviews are always thought-provoking; they are a chance to explore new conversations and find new ways of seeing and understanding your topic.