7 tips for interviewing service users at home

Paul Whalley shares his advice for conducting home-based interviews with service users.

Girl at table

The advantages of home interviewing are clear. There's confidence, safety and security for a service user on home turf.

However, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed before doing home-based interviews.

This post considers the nuts and bolts of interviewing in someone’s home. If you’d like information about asking sensitive questions in interviews, there are some great resources available.

Tip 1: Assess potential risks

Home interviews need to be risk assessed.

Is the service user at risk by doing the interview at home? They may be distressed when talking about sensitive areas or earlier experiences of abuse, so have information on local sources of support ready to share.

There could also be a risk to the interviewer if the service user arranges the interview. For example, a family member could walk in during the interview and misunderstand its context.

Someone within the organisation needs to know the interview is taking place. This person must be available to take a mobile phone call if there's an issue, and recognise a coded phrase that indicates a problem.

Tip 2: Plan your transport in advance

Getting to a home interview involves transport.

Drivers should research the location to arrive in good time. Sitting in a parked car is helpful for last minute preparation and is infinitely better than jeopardising the interview by arriving late.

You could use Google Street View to identify any issues with access to the property and environmental safety concerns like high bushes, walkways and rear entrances.

Pick a parking space that won't draw attention to your visit, but isn't too far away either. If it's likely to be dark when the interview finishes, park near a lamppost for safety.

If you don't have a car, research public transport carefully and err on the side of caution for timings. You may be able to take a bus from the railway station to the area of the interview, but a taxi could be a more reliable option.

Tip 3: Think about the interview room

Where the interview takes place in the home is crucial.

If you’re meeting a young person in a residential unit, never do the interview in a bedroom, even if it’s the only private space the young person has. Move other people out of common rooms or rearrange the interview if necessary.

If you’re using a digital recorder, place it on a table or chair close to the service user. Take new batteries and test the sound in the environment. Background noise can interfere with the quality of the recording.

Tip 4: Pick a convenient time to interview

Some people can do daytime interviews. For others, evenings are better due to work patterns or childcare arrangements.

Aim to arrange interviews between Mondays and Thursdays. Avoid Fridays so that the service user can contact organisations on a working day if the interview raises issues for them.

Whatever time you do the interview, make sure you're fed and watered so you won't need to accept a drink or use the toilet.

Tip 5: Check if anyone else will be present

Some interviewees want another person present for emotional support. This is fine as long as the purpose of the interview is clearly explained. It's not helpful for the other person to answer for them. This invariably leads to a shy interviewee constantly deferring to their friend or family member.

Interviewing a parent with young children around is also distracting. Children need attention, and one way of getting it could be to approach the evaluator's digital recorder!

Sometimes animals are present. Owners may assure me their dog won't hurt anyone, but his blood-curdling growls won't set my mind at ease.

Cats can also be a problem. I once interviewed a mother with 4 cats roaming the kitchen. My childhood allergy to cat fur hasn't completely disappeared, but the transcriber did a noble job of putting my sneezes into context!

Tip 6: Be aware of data security

As well as thinking about sound quality, make sure you're conscious of data security at all times.

Clear files from the recorder before the interview if possible. Transfer your interview files to a secure computer system as soon as you can after the interview. This is another good reason not to conduct interviews on Fridays.

Tip 7: Preparation is key

With thorough and careful preparation, home interviews can be a great way of getting the evaluation data you need.

Working with your interviewee in an organised, professional and sensitive way will also remind you why you do the job do.

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