The overall aim of training for peer interviewers is to prepare people to carry out high-quality interviews that are respectful of interviewees and generate useful and relevant information for the project. This involves:

  • helping peer interviewers to recognise the skills and experiencethey bring to the project
  • helping people to develop the skills necessary for the task
  • building people’s confidence. 

As with any training for professional interviewers, training for peer interviewers needs to cover:

  • a discussion about what makes a good interviewer
  • interviewing techniques: open questions, active listening and probing for more information
  • designing and using the interview schedule – formulating a list of interview questions for use in the research project
  • managing the interview process from start to finish – setting up an interview and recruiting interviewees, how to begin, how to carry out the interview and how to finish and leave the interview
  • obtaining consent and checking the interviewee’s capacity to participate on the day
  • non-verbal communication
  • dealing with sensitive or difficult topics and situations – what to do if someone is upset, angry or non-responsive
  • ethics and confidentiality, for example seeking informed consent and assessing capacity to take give consent
  • what to do if you have concerns about an interviewee, for example if someone seems unwell or appears to be at risk. There needs to be a clear understanding of the procedures and different people’s responsibilities in these circumstances so that neither the interviewees nor the interviewers are left unsupported.
  • practical issues, for example using a Dictaphone or digital audio recorder.

An important and unique aspect of training peer interviewers is helping them to channel their personal experience in a way that’s relevant and useful to the research – to make sure it brings added value. Problems can arise from assumed common knowledge, for example the interviewee might assume the peer interviewer knows what they are talking about and say something like ‘You know what I mean’ or ‘You’ll know what that’s like’ without going into any depth. Peer interviewers therefore need to be prepared to:

  • explain their background of using health or social care services or being a carerand be open about their experience, without overly influencing the interviewee or dominating the discussion
  • recognise when assumptions are being made, either by themselves or the interviewee, and probe for more information when this happens, for example by saying something like ‘I don’t know what’s it’s like for you, only what it’s like for me. Can you tell me more?’ 

Useful practical approaches include:

  • timing the training so that it coincides with the work on the project and can support the development of the interview schedule
  • including a session to gain familiarity with the research topic – this enables people to explore their own perspectives and also helps with team building
  • using lots of interview practice during the training session – even though people often don’t like it, role-play or simulation gives them an opportunity to rehearse how they will phrase things. People who have had this kind of training say that it helps them enormously. It’s also useful to include training in ‘giving constructive feedback’ as part of this process.
  • using mobile phones to film interviews during the training session or in practice interviews – this is a safe way for people to see for themselves how they come across as an interviewer
  • conducting pilot interviews to help peer interviewers gain familiarity with the process as well as helping to develop the interview schedule
  • shadowing experienced interviewers to learn from observing good practice
  • building time for review into the project – for example after conducting a number of interviews, it’s helpful for team members to reflect on their experiences, and offer further feedback as well as support and encouragement.