Friday, 31 July 2009

Ethical issues of interviews

On the whole, I don't think most interviews that I've done so far have changed any participant's life view, but there were some reactions and reflections on their work. Three young men particularly seemed reflective.
  1. One participant talked openly and enthusiastically about his work, expressing his willingness to learn; he hoped to learn as much from me as I from him, though he talked more, which is what I needed. But he talked around all sorts of other topics away from my focus of interest. The way he talked was saying something about the perception he wanted other people to have of him, not just his perception of the project. A very outgoing man, he runs a couple of blogs, and twitters and electronically shares his technical expertise with any who want to know. He also follows up business ideas and notes their applications.
  2. Another participant was quieter, renowned for his shyness, but he chatted and thoughtfully followed up all my questions with his own ideas. He even concluded, as if he'd hardly realised it before, that his experience of the project had brought out more in him, that he was less shy than he had been and perhaps now a more confident contributor.
  3. A third participant as we talked seemed to change his perception of the role he had played, as if he hadn't realised what he'd done and what he'd learned. The conversation implied more changes in his life view, which is something that Kvale writes about.
That's where ethical issues arise. The interviewer's role may affect the participant. Kvale suggests different roles in relation to participants:
  • exploiter,
  • reformer
  • advocate
  • friend.
I could add teacher, counsellor, career adviser. Talking about relationships in a project constructs a perception of the relationships in both interviewer and interviewee. Should I do that? I can't not talk about relationships - that's the research.

The questions may change the participant's self-concept. I can't help that consequence, but must be aware of the ethics, do no harm.

Another issue Kvale draws attention to is the independence of the researcher. If a researcher identifies too closely with a group of participants, then the researcher might emphasis some findings rather than others. However, I think that's obviated when I speak to participants with different roles on a project. It's more likely to happen if I get to talk to only one person, or only one group of people playing similar roles.

These are ethical issues that didn't come to mind when I first proposed the research. They were never part of my application to the research ethics panel. Perhaps I'll raise them next time we have a seminar on ethics.

Kvale, 1996, InterViews: introduction to qualitative research interviewing

No comments: