Moderating Success

Written by PortMA

Moderating Success

While much of the work we do at PortMA is quantitative, we also conduct qualitative research from time to time. These qualitative research efforts most often take the form of in-depth interviews, primarily, though not exclusively, with consumers. For more information on our qualitative work, click here.

What is Moderating?

Conducting, or moderating, these interviews is an art form to some degree. As the interviewer (a.k.a. moderator), it is your job to get the answers to questions that will help meet the objectives of the research.
Beyond asking the right questions, this means you are charged with establishing a rapport with someone while maintaining a level of professional objectivity around the topic. As if that weren’t enough, you need to invite conversation while keeping the discussion structured and on-track. This means knowing when to let an interview participant continue talking and when to guide him or her along to the next question.
In short: You need to be a good listener, a good communicator, and quick on your feet.

How to establish trust when moderating

Perhaps most importantly, however, you need to have a genuine interest in people.
As it might with any discussion between two people, the primary element that contributes to a successful one-on-one interview is trust. If the participant perceives the moderator as someone who is authentic and trustworthy, he or she is more likely to be more open, to be engaged in the conversation, and to provide a rich and profound dialogue.
Trust is generally established within the first few moments of the interview. There are a few tried and true guidelines that can help ensure you have a solid connection with your participants.

  1. At the very beginning of the interview, acknowledge and thank the participant for his/ her time. Additionally, restate the purpose of the discussion so the general topic of discussion is clear and understood by both parties.
  2. Introduce yourself as an impartial researcher who is simply seeking answers to questions. Let the participant know you are not necessarily an expert on the subject at hand and are looking to them to provide help for you to understand more about it.
  3. Reinforce the idea that there are no right or wrong answers – that you are most interested in his/ her open and honest feedback.
  4. State the confidential nature of the research, confirming individual names will not appear in the public domain. Let them know that interview results will be reported in aggregate and no one participant will be attached to the feedback. (If you are video or audio recording, alert him or her to that. Reiterate it is for note taking purposes only and is used exclusively as a record of the research and to gauge their comfort with being record).
  5. Start off with a few broad, “soft” questions that allow the participant to warm up and get used to being interviewed. It is not uncommon for qualitative participants to be overly aware of the camera/recording as the interview begins. Starting with soft questions can help them relax.
  6. From there, be strategic about how and when remaining questions are asked. For example, questions referencing a sensitive topic are best positioned in the middle of the interview once rapport has been established and the participant is more comfortable with the interview process.

There is a myriad of techniques related to establishing and maintaining a connection with qualitative research participants, whether they are part of in-depth interviews or focus groups.
What are some that have worked for you?
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