In the course of my doctorate, I only did a few expert interviews at the beginning, but I supervised numerous bachelor and master theses that made use of this method. I even have the feeling that the typical bachelor thesis is what I’m looking for Literature analysis and expert interviews. In the following text I would like to give you some tips.

Advantages of an expert interview

The purpose of the interview is to ask a selected expert about hypotheses. It is therefore not used to get an overview of a topic, but to evaluate specific points of the literature analysis. So it’s exploratory because you never know what kind of knowledge will be gained. The expert interview therefore has its strength in In contrast to the survey, in unstructured and open questions. To Group discussion it is differentiated by the fact that it is a dialogue between two people.

Differentiation from journalistic interviews

An expert interview means: asking someone about their knowledge. In contrast to the journalistic interview, the interviewer has a factual and less public interest. The approach is constructive. One would like to query the expert’s knowledge neutrally and not “put statements in his mouth”. So it’s about technical statements and a neutral view. Also ask real experts and not provocateurs such as some book authors. So it makes little sense to ask the author of a bachelor thesis on HR: “Why HR is to be asked in the end”. He is certainly not very neutral and wants to provoke.
Reading tip: Book to Expert interview

Different types of expert interviews

There are several types of interviews that I would like to briefly introduce:

  • Structured interview
  • Unstructured interview
  • Semi-structured interview
  • Narrative interview
  • Problem-centered interview

On structured interview is like a questionnaire with fixed answers such as yes / no or information such as sales: 1-3 million. , 3-5 million, …. – It requires questions to be asked very precisely. The aim of the questionnaire is to ask as many people as possible identical questions in order to compare the results.
It is the opposite unstructured interview. Here it is better to ask 3-5 experts. The questions are very open, for example, what do you think of agility? How do you find the trend of digitization? You can also go into depth here on specific topics. Such an interview requires a quick grasp of the subject and experience and is recommended if little is known about the topic.
If you want to combine the best of both worlds, it’s worth it semi-structured interview . You define some of the questions beforehand and then ask 3-5 open questions. In general, the semi-structured interview is the most common and very flexible. I recommend 4-5 closed and 3-4 open questions for the bachelor thesis. One also likes to say guided interview, but this is a sub-form of the semi-structured interview. Here the focus is on reasonably formulated questions and frequent deviations from the questionnaire.
Another special form is that narrative interview . The narrative interview is like a narrative and focuses on a person’s story and subjective experiences. It helps especially with case studies and observations as well as with a high level of practical experience (participation in the action through narration). It is highly subjective, however. An example is a story about the first agile project.
The problem-centered interview serves to record the experiences and subjective perceptions of an expert. You commit yourself to a problem and the expert tells his experience on the topic quite freely. It is much more structured than the narrative interview, since a specific problem is brought into focus, e.g. the experience of failure in projects. So it’s not about the project history but only about the part of the defeat.
It is important that you briefly explain the type of interview and also give a brief explanation in the thesis. In each paragraph I have mentioned some advantages that you can use as a justification.

Selecting and finding the experts

I always recommend asking at least 3 and preferably 5 experts. It must be precisely justified in the work why you have chosen exactly these people. It is not enough to say that you know them or that they happened to be standing around at the bus stop.
Your experts should therefore be precisely defined. Depending on the research question, it must be justified whether this person needs long professional or management experience or whether he has to be a young professional. An example would be when interviewing the application process, it may make sense to interview young professionals. Or in a survey on workplace equipment, professional experience is irrelevant. It is therefore important to check the following dimensions, among others:

  • Certain age or generation?
  • Do you need some professional experience?
  • Manager or employee?
  • Medium-sized companies, SMEs or corporations?
  • Industry important or not?
  • Certain competence required (e.g. Scrum)

The experts can be easily found on Xing. The premium search can be used to search for “I offer” and the experts can be contacted. One or the other expert can also be found through groups. Incidentally, this also works with LinkedIn. Furthermore, questions can be asked in the private environment (parents, friends, …). It also makes sense to simply write to the authors of specialist articles that you can find in the literature analysis and ask for an interview.
Tip: Write politely in the e-mail: why you chose the expert, how long it will take, what it is about and three suggested dates.

Content of the expert interview

The exact content of the questions depends of course on your research question. However, you should precisely conceptualize the nature of the question. As a rule, you have put forward hypotheses that you want to check. In a quantitative survey, you try to substantiate these theses with concrete figures. In the qualitative expert interview, however, you want to understand the theses better. Examples of theses are:

  • From a team size of 12 people, the Kanban method is better suited than Scrum.
  • In SMEs, Kanban is more efficient than Scrum because of the small process landscape.

You derive one question for each hypothesis. You want to know: Do you agree with this thesis and why? You can also support the theses with open questions and thus provide background information on the theses, e.g. “What is your opinion on Kanban?” In a thesis, 5-10 questions are usually sufficient.
Reading tip: Prepare theses

Conducting the expert interview

It is best to do it in person, otherwise by phone or Skype. You have to prepare a questionnaire with 5-15 questions. You go through this one by one and take notes or, better still, record the interview. It can make sense to set up a data protection agreement for this. Don’t forget to introduce yourself briefly before the interview. You can choose whether or not to send the questionnaire beforehand. Often spontaneous answers are better or most experts are very busy and don’t look at them anyway.
Tip: don’t forget yours Cleanly limit methodology.

How many people should I interview?

This is a good question, and in general, the more you ask, the more meaningful the results. My tip is to ask yourself after every interview: How significantly have the results changed since the last interview? For example, if the 5th participant tells you that agile methods in IT are great for digitization, then you can slowly stop asking even more experts this question.
To do this, add the following sentence to your work: 5 participants were interviewed. To Wilde and Hess (2006) the saturation criterion of a research method is reached if, after a certain number of participants, no significant new knowledge has been gained after an iteration. After evaluating the interview results, no significant new findings could be identified in the last 2 iterations.
Overall, however, I can say as a guideline that 5-10 people were often interviewed in my bachelor thesis.

Evaluation of the expert interview

The first step is to type in the interview and smooth the language. You can also express the content in bullet points or shorter sentences. However, this is usually decided by your supervisor. Otherwise the minutes are attached and are similar to the interviews that you can find in newspapers.
In the evaluations, first indicate question 1, for example, which equipment you would like at the workplace. Then present the answers: Example: Experts a and b agree that they want a smartphone. Expert C wants to go there a tablet. This is how you systematically go through the questions.
Reading tip: Book on qualitative content analysis

Data protection and consent

When you interview the experts, share this sensitive information. It is important that you point out what data you are using. You can also sign a privacy policy. You can find numerous templates on Google. Also let us know whether the interview is anonymous or not. Interview minutes or transcripts should also be approved beforehand.

Conclusion: tips for expert interviews

The method was very well suited for a lot of research and focuses on surveys on current knowledge. The preparation and evaluation takes a long time, which is why the interviews have to be properly prepared and planned. My tips should give an initial orientation to the methodology. Definitely look too in my other book tips!

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Author

I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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