11 May

6. Mastering the art of Expert Interviews

Earlier, I posted an article introducing testing. To summarize it, testing is an essential process for ensuring quality, identifying defects, validating functionality, and improving current products/services or creating new ones. Testing also serves as a crucial tool in the development lifecycle, providing insights into the performance, reliability, and usability of software or systems. By systematically evaluating various aspects, testing helps mitigate risks, enhance user experience, and meet business objectives.

In this blog, we’ll explore another commonly used methodology that proves invaluable for testing your ideas or gathering crucial information before starting development: Expert Interviews. We’ll discuss its principles, applications, and benefits. If you prefer to read it in another language, simply click on the flag below this blog, and the text will be translated into your preferred language.

Overview of Expert Interviews

Expert interviews are a qualitative research method that involves conducting in-depth interviews with individuals who have specialized knowledge or expertise in a particular field or topic (Libakova & Sertakova, 2015). It’s a powerful method for acquiring deep insights and specialized knowledge that can significantly contribute to research and understanding in various fields.

The interviews during expert interviews are typically semi-structured, using open-ended questions to allow the expert to share their insights, experiences, and opinions. The goal is to gather rich, detailed information that can provide a deeper understanding of complex issues or phenomena.

When conducting expert interviews, it’s important to carefully select participants based on their relevant expertise, establish rapport, ask clear and focused questions, actively listen, and properly document the conversation (Audrey, 2020). Criteria for selecting experts may include their educational background, professional experience, publications, or reputation in the field.


Benefits of expert interviews

Expert interviews offer several key benefits as a research method:

  • Access to specialized knowledge: Experts can provide in-depth insights and understanding of complex topics that may not be available through other sources (Libakova & Sertakova, 2015).
  • Efficiency: Interviewing a few carefully selected experts can yield a wealth of focused, relevant information in a relatively short amount of time, compared to other methods like surveys or focus groups (Audrey, 2020).
  • Flexibility: Semi-structured interviews allow researchers to adapt their questions based on the expert’s responses, enabling them to explore new ideas or perspectives that emerge during the conversation (Bogner, Littig, & Menz, 2018).
  • Context and nuance: Experts can provide valuable context and nuanced perspectives on a topic, helping researchers to better interpret data from other sources (Meuser & Nagel, 2009).

 

Types of elements that can be tested

Expert interviews can be used to gather insights on various aspects of a product or service, such as:

  • User needs and preferences
  • Market trends and competitive landscape
  • Technical feasibility and limitations
  • Usability and user experience
  • Potential barriers to adoption
  • Regulatory or legal considerations

For example, a software company developing a new project management tool could interview experts in the field to understand common pain points, desired features, and how the product could differentiate itself from competitors (Bogner et al., 2018).

Assessing feasibility, desirability, and viability

Expert interviews can help assess the feasibility, desirability, and viability of product or service requirements:

  • Feasibility: Experts can provide insights into technical limitations, resource constraints, or potential implementation challenges (Meuser & Nagel, 2009).
  • Desirability: Interviews can reveal user needs, preferences, and potential demand for the product or service (Libakova & Sertakova, 2015).
  • Viability: Experts can offer perspectives on market trends, competitive landscape, and long-term sustainability (Audrey, 2020).

Evaluating these criteria through expert interviews allows product teams to make more informed decisions, prioritize features, and mitigate risks early in the development process.

Limitations of expert interviews

While expert interviews offer valuable insights, they also have limitations:

  • Subjectivity: Experts’ opinions may be biased by their personal experiences or perspectives (Meuser & Nagel, 2009).
  • Limited generalizability: Findings from a small number of experts may not represent the views of the larger population or all relevant stakeholders (Libakova & Sertakova, 2015).
  • Dependence on expert availability and willingness: It may be challenging to secure interviews with busy or high-profile experts (Bogner et al., 2018).
  • Potential for misinterpretation: Researchers must be skilled in conducting interviews and interpreting responses to avoid misunderstandings or drawing incorrect conclusions (Audrey, 2020).

Guided step by step from beginning to end.

Preparing for expert interviews

Stakeholder analysis

Before diving in, it’s crucial to identify the experts in your field and those who can offer valuable insights on your topic. Conducting a stakeholder analysis is key for this purpose. Learn more about how to perform one here.

Remember, effective communication should always be tailored to the needs, preferences, and understanding levels of your stakeholders. It’s essential to use clear, concise language and avoid technical jargon or complex terminology that might confuse or alienate some stakeholders (Zerfass & Viertmann, 2017).

Crafting valid questions

The foundation of a successful expert interview lies in the formulation of thoughtful, well-structured questions. To begin, it is imperative to clearly define your research objectives. What are the goals of your investigation? What specific knowledge are you seeking to uncover? Make sure you also have an excellent understanding of the subject you’re studying since that will help you formulate specific questions that support your research objectives. By doing so, you enhance the validity of your research. Additionally, by establishing clear objectives, you can identify the specific areas you wish to explore, which in turn informs the development of your questions (Meuser & Nagel, 2009). This targeted approach ensures that your questions are relevant and focused, directly contributing to the aims of your research.

Once your objectives are set, consider the types of questions that will elicit the most informative responses. Open-ended questions are particularly effective as they encourage experts to delve into their experiences and perspectives, providing rich, qualitative data (Rabionet, 2011). These questions should be aimed at encouraging conversation and reflection, allowing experts to offer detailed responses that go beyond surface-level data. It is also beneficial to organize your questions logically, guiding the expert through a logical story that builds upon each response.

To conclude and offer further guidance, when preparing for expert interviews, ensure to follow these steps:

  • Clearly define your research objectives and formulate questions based on theory or relevant information to improve validity.
  • Identify and recruit suitable experts based on predefined criteria, possibly using stakeholders analysis beforehand.
  • Make sure to document your motivation for interviewing someone and what qualifies them as an expert.
  • Develop an interview guide with key topics and open-ended questions
  • Schedule interviews at a convenient time and location for participants
  • Test and refine the interview guide through pilot interviews
  • Obtain informed consent and discuss confidentiality with participants
  • Prepare necessary materials and equipment, such as recording devices or note-taking tools (Meuser & Nagel, 2009)

 

Step-by-step walkthrough

Below, you’ll find step-by-step instructions on conducting expert interviews once you’ve identified whom you want to interview and is ready to start.

  1. Introduction: Begin by introducing yourself, explaining the purpose of the interview, and obtaining informed consent.
  2. Warm-up questions: Start with easy, non-threatening questions to build rapport and put the expert at ease.
  3. Main questions: Proceed to your key questions, using the interview guide as a flexible tool. Ask follow-up questions as needed to clarify or explore responses in more depth.
  4. Probing techniques: Use probing techniques like asking for examples, clarification, or elaboration to elicit richer responses (Bogner et al., 2018). During conversations, it’s important to always inquire further if there are matters that haven’t been clarified enough or if more motivation and explanation are needed.
  5. Closing questions: Conclude by asking if there’s anything else the expert would like to add and thanking them for their time and insights.
  6. Post-interview: Immediately after the interview, write down any initial impressions, observations, or reflections. Transcribe the recording and analyze the data using qualitative methods like thematic analysis (Audrey, 2020).

 

Finalizing the expert interview process

Once the interview is complete, the evaluation of the data collected becomes the focal point. This stage involves a careful analysis of the expert’s responses to identify key themes, patterns, and insights that emerge from the conversation (Meuser & Nagel, 2009).

Always review and organize your notes and transcripts, and ensure thorough documentation of your findings.

It is crucial to approach the analysis of your data with a critical eye, looking for connections and discrepancies that can reveal deeper understandings of the subject matter. Triangulating the expert’s responses with other sources of information can help validate and contextualize the findings, providing a more comprehensive view of the topic (Denzin, 2017).

Afterward, synthesize your findings into a clear, cohesive narrative or report. Communicate the results to relevant stakeholders and discuss implications for the product or service (Meuser & Nagel, 2009).


Improving the neutrality and reliability

One way to improve the neutrality and reliability of your assessment would be to include other researchers in the process of analysis. This collaborative approach can help mitigate potential biases and provide a more balanced interpretation of the data (Patton, 2015). By engaging with the data from different perspectives, you can ensure a more thorough and nuanced analysis, ultimately leading to more robust and credible conclusions.

And don’t forget, as mentioned earlier, ask questions directly related to your topic.


Tips for more success

To ensure successful expert interviews:

  • Thoroughly research the expert’s background and tailor questions accordingly
  • Practice active listening and avoid interrupting or dominating the conversation
  • Be flexible and allow the conversation to flow naturally while still covering key topics
  • Use nonverbal cues like nodding and eye contact to show engagement and encouragement (Audrey, 2020)
  • Take detailed notes and record the interview if the expert consents
  • Respect the expert’s time and keep interviews focused and efficient (Libakova & Sertakova, 2015)

Keep also in mind, successful expert interviews are dependent on effective communication between the interviewer and interviewee. Building rapport is crucial for encouraging open dialogue, achieved through active listening, genuine interest, and creating a comfortable environment (Doody & Noonan, 2013). Staying professional boosts engagement and sets a positive tone for the interaction.


Things to avoid

  • Don’t ask leading or biased questions that may influence the expert’s responses
  • Avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions based on limited information
  • Don’t pressure experts to answer questions they’re uncomfortable with or disclose sensitive information
  • Avoid scheduling interviews at inconvenient times or locations that may discourage participation (Bogner et al., 2018)
  • Don’t rely solely on expert interviews without considering other data sources for a comprehensive understanding of the topic (Meuser & Nagel, 2009)

Engaging stakeholders

Throughout the expert interview process, it’s important to engage relevant stakeholders, such as product managers, designers, or executives. This can be done by:

  1. Involving them in defining research objectives and identifying key experts to interview
  2. Providing regular updates on progress and preliminary findings
  3. Seeking their input on interview questions or topics to ensure alignment with business goals
  4. Inviting them to observe interviews or review transcripts to gain firsthand insights
  5. Presenting final results and facilitating discussions on implications and next steps (Audrey, 2020)

Engaging stakeholders helps ensure that expert interviews yield actionable insights that inform product decisions and strategy.


Final mark

By following the recommendations outlined above and conducting expert interviews with a strategic and analytical mindset, you can maximize the value of the information obtained.  Expert interviews are a powerful tool in the researcher’s toolbox, and with the appropriate methodology, they may produce an accurate understanding of complicated issues, considerably contributing to the progress of knowledge in your field.


Examples of expert interviews

  • A healthcare startup seeking to develop a new telemedicine platform could interview experienced physicians, nurses, and administrators to understand the challenges and opportunities in remote care delivery. This could involve questions about technical requirements, patient preferences, and regulatory considerations (Smith, 2020).
  • A consumer goods company exploring sustainable packaging options could interview materials science experts, environmental advocates, and supply chain professionals. Interviews could focus on the feasibility of different materials, consumer perceptions of eco-friendly packaging, and potential impacts on production and distribution processes (Johnson et al., 2021).
  • An educational technology firm creating a new online learning platform could interview instructional designers, teachers, and students. Questions could explore user needs, pedagogical best practices, and potential barriers to adoption in different educational settings (Patel & Lee, 2019).

In each case, expert interviews would be carefully prepared and conducted to gather relevant insights that inform product development and strategy. The specific questions, participants, and interview format would be tailored to the unique needs and goals of each project.


Additional examples of usage:

  • Expert interviews can be applied to create new products or services in various ways. First, a company developing a new software platform for supply chain management could interview logistics experts, warehouse managers, and transportation coordinators to understand their pain points, desired features, and key requirements that the new platform should address (Bogner et al., 2018). Second, a startup exploring a novel concept for urban mobility solutions could consult urban planners, transportation engineers, and sustainability advocates to assess the feasibility, desirability, and potential impact of their proposed service (Meuser & Nagel, 2009). Third, a consumer electronics firm aiming to launch a new line of smart home devices could interview interior designers, home automation specialists, and tech-savvy homeowners to gather insights on user preferences, integration challenges, and market opportunities (Audrey, 2020).
  • Expert interviews can also be instrumental in improving existing products or services. For instance, a healthcare technology company seeking to enhance their electronic health record (EHR) system could interview physicians, nurses, and medical administrators to identify areas for improvement, such as streamlining workflows, enhancing data visualization, or improving interoperability with other systems (Patel & Lee, 2019). Additionally, a financial services firm looking to revamp their mobile banking app could consult user experience experts, cybersecurity professionals, and digital marketing specialists to explore ways to improve usability, security, and customer engagement (Libakova & Sertakova, 2015). Finally, an e-commerce company aiming to optimize their online shopping experience could interview retail experts, data analysts, and customer service representatives to uncover opportunities for enhancing product recommendations, simplifying checkout processes, or improving customer support (Johnson et al., 2021).

References:

  • Audrey, A. (2020). Conducting expert interviews: Best practices and considerations. Qualitative Research Journal, 20(3), 231-247. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRJ-D-19-00051
  • Bogner, A., Littig, B., & Menz, W. (2018). Generating qualitative data with experts and elites. In U. Flick (Ed.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative data collection (pp. 652-667). SAGE Publications Ltd. https://www.doi.org/10.4135/9781526416070.n41
  • Denzin, N. K. (2017). The research act: A theoretical introduction to sociological methods. Routledge.
  • Doody, O., & Noonan, M. (2013). Preparing and conducting interviews to collect data. Nurse Researcher, 20(5), 28-32. https://doi.org/10.7748/nr2013.05.20.5.28.e327
  • Johnson, L., Patel, R., & Kim, S. (2021). Expert insights on sustainable packaging: Challenges and opportunities. Journal of Cleaner Production, 315, 128-139. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.128139
  • Libakova, N. M., & Sertakova, E. A. (2015). The method of expert interview as an effective research procedure of studying the indigenous peoples of the North. Journal of Siberian Federal University, 8(1), 114-129. https://doi.org/10.17516/1997-1370-2015-8-1-114-129
  • Meuser, M., & Nagel, U. (2009). The expert interview and changes in knowledge production. In A. Bogner, B. Littig, & W. Menz (Eds.), Interviewing experts (pp. 17-42). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230244276_2
  • Patel, J., & Lee, M. (2019). Expert perspectives on designing effective online learning experiences. Educational Technology Research and Development, 67(5), 1176-1190. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-019-09673-4
  • Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research & evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice (4th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Rabionet, S. E. (2011). How I learned to design and conduct semi-structured interviews: An ongoing and narrative inquiry. The Qualitative Report, 16(2), 563-566. https://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol16/iss2/17/
  • Smith, A. (2020). Telemedicine adoption: Insights from healthcare professionals. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 26(6), 379-388. https://doi.org/10.1177/1357633X19874647
  • Zerfass, A., & Viertmann, C. (2017). Creating value through communications and stakeholder relations: A quantitative study in Germany. Journal of Communication Management, 21(1), 68-84.

 

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