Issues to think about before you start – training
Training to develop interview skills is best delivered face-to-face. This kind of training is best delivered face-to-face as much of the work involves developing interpersonal skills. If you are working with people who are unable to attend meetings, you may need to think about how you might otherwise support them to do this kind of work – for example they may be able to conduct telephone interviews from home, but you may have to provide initial one-to-one training and support for them phone or in person.
Don’t assume that all members of the public lack interviewing skills. For example, someone who has interviewed people for job vacancies may have many more years’ experience of interviewing than any other member of the research team. They may only need training on how to apply their skills to research, and can act as a valuable source of advice to others.
It’s not appropriate to use training as a means of selecting people. This will create undue pressure on participants and won’t help them to learn. Not everyone will make a good interviewer – this is true of researchers as much as members of the public – so think in advance how you will choose the right people for this role. Any form of selection should take place earlier on, through recruitment processes or information and selection days (see Mental Health Research Network toolkit for researchers). If these processes are run well, most people who aren’t suited to the role will tend to ‘select themselves out’.
What other roles might people usefully play if not suited to interviewing? If after training, individuals haven’t acquired the necessary skills or still aren’t confident with interviewing, think about how they could be employed in other roles within your project. For example, in projects where people conduct interviews in pairs, one person could take a less active role, taking notes and supporting the other person carrying out the interview.
How can you link your training to professional development? Can the training be used to promote professional development for members of the public, for example via accreditation with the National Open College Network. This can be of enormous value to the individuals involved.