What’s the Best Assessment Tool? Part II – Interviews

Posted on: November 16th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

The last Tools for Shuls post on assessment examined using questionnaires to gather information about the perceived success of a project, process or event.  This post focuses on another common tool that synagogues and other organizations can use with relative ease: interviewing.  Questionnaires are great for quickly gathering information from many people.  The trade-off is you only receive top-line, superficial information.  For greater depth, use interviews as a method of gathering information.  To get the most useful results, you’ll often find that a mix of both is the best choice.

For example, let’s say that you’ve surveyed a group of adults who have just attended a spirituality retreat.  The retreat was designed to offer participants an introduction to a range of spiritual practices including yoga, meditation, study and cooking.  You can use a questionnaire to get a general sense of how people responded to the various activities.  But, given the complex nature of the experience you were trying to create, you’ll probably want to interview participants so you can really understand why certain experiences resonated for some and not for others.

While interviewing is a formal process, we interview people informally on a regular basis.  After all, interviewing is simply asking someone for a restatement, clarification or explanation of an experience or idea.  There are several characteristics that turn those questions into an interview.

Interviews are a series of questions that are purposeful, systematic and structured.  “Structured” means that all of those interviewed will answer a core set of questions, with the interviewer probing more deeply for items of special note.  By using a core set of questions, you can be assured that you are comparing similar information.  Interviewing also requires trained listening (knowing when and when not to probe further,) and objectivity (recording the views of the interviewee without coloring them with your interpretation).

In addition to carefully determining the questions, there are several important choices you’ll have to make if you interview congregants. Who will do the interviewing?  Will you train fellow congregants or use an outside person or organization?  How many people do you need to interview to get reliable information?  Will you record the interview or take hand written notes?  At a minimum, you should consult with a congregant who is an expert at conducting interviews to help guide you with these choices.

Now, it’s my turn to “interview” you: do you have experience in your organization in interviewing members?  What triggered the use of interviewing?  Did you use members or non-members as interviewers?  What made the process work—or not?  Please share your own experiences.

Rabbi Hayim Herring

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