Telephone interviewing for research purposes
Preferably, the target population should receive advance written advice and a Participant Information Form (PIF) to advise them that telephone contact will be made for the purposes of research.
The PIF should address the normal guidelines for information and consent documents (found below) and should:
- Explain how names, addresses and telephone numbers of the target interviewees were obtained.
- Provide information about a potentially acceptable interviewee time and why the researchers have selected this time.
- Indicate the general format of the interview and its expected duration.
- Provide details about the nature and type of questions to be asked.
- Offer information about how the target population may prevent telephone contact, e.g. by providing a contact number for the researcher to indicate unwillingness to participate.
- Alternatively, the PIF could also advise recipients who do not want to participate that they can inform the caller when telephone contact is made.
Where advance notice of telephone contact is impractical or likely to be unnecessary due to the nature of the interview or the target population, it may be ethically acceptable to introduce a direct contact approach.
However, the preamble to such unannounced contact should always offer polite explanation and information and then request participation. Where participation is declined, an immediate and courteous ‘thank you’ should terminate the contact.
The telephone interview and script
The ethics application submitted for approval should include an indicative telephone interview script. The introduction must clearly identify the caller, the University, and the project; and must refer to any written advice previously sent to potential interviewees.
In situations where advance written notice has not been provided, the script must also:
- Identify a University contact point for any complaint by the participant.
- Provide contact information for the researcher.
- Include an offer of written information, if required by the potential participant.
The introductory script should not immediately introduce sensitive subject matter but must; instead, seek to confirm the presence of an appropriate potential respondent and, where advance written notice has been forwarded, the person/s to whom the advance notice had been sent.
The introductory script should also recognise that people may not have received or read any written material that has been sent to them.
Researchers should ascertain if interviewees wish to continue with the interview after an interval.
Respondents should be warned where questions may be of a sensitive nature. In cases where, for example, questions relating to domestic violence or sexual behaviour are part of the interview, ethics approval may be conditional upon delivery of an advance notice PIF.
Conclusion of the interview should always provide appreciation for the participation of the respondent on behalf of the researcher and the University.
Ethics applications should provide ethics reviewers with information about the instruction and training that will be provided to interviewers and whether the interviewers are experienced or are novice, student interviewers.
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