Over the past 11 years, I have been involved with a number of projects that include market research interviews with payers. The aim of these projects is usually to gather feedback from the payer to help identify value drivers, validate value messages and/or inform market access strategy.
In my permanent consultancy roles I was involved from the proposal stage or kick off meeting, through to delivery of the findings. However, as a freelancer I am often asked to just fill in for one aspect of the project e.g. by conducting some of the interviews or just analysing a few transcripts and summarising the key findings in a report. In this capacity, I often have to work with a discussion guide that someone else has developed, which has made me increasingly aware of what makes a good discussion guide vs a bad one… So this month I thought I would summarise my top tips for preparing a discussion guide:
1. Make sure your main objective is simple and clear
Why are you doing the interviews? What is the main question you are hoping to answer? This is the most important step prior to developing a discussion guide. Defining this early on is important as it can also help you to understand who you need to interview, as well as the types of questions you want to ask. By defining the objective and helping the interviewer to understand why you are doing the research, what aspects of the project it will be informing, and even any hypotheses you want to validate, you will get a much better output from the interview. If you don’t do this, the interviewer will ask the questions as they are written down but will find it hard to know what responses to explore in more detail.
2. Keep ‘scripted’ lines as short as possible
You are not paying for someone to listen to you read out information, but to provide answers to your questions. By all means provide enough information so that the interviewer can answer any questions from the interviewee, but don’t insert a 5 minute speech for them to read out before the interviews start. If you need to provide further information to put the interview into context, this should be communicated in writing at recruitment and/or through any materials provided to the interviewee to help them prepare.
3. Write open questions
An open question is any that will typically provide a long answer, as opposed to closed questions that can be answered with a yes or a no. There are different definitions, but the following link provides some good guidance
Sometimes a closed question is appropriate, but from the interviewer’s perspective it can be tiring to keep probing ‘why’ when the question could have asked this in the first place. Also, as the interview runs on, the interviewee is likely to tire of providing detailed responses and will answer with a simple yes or no if they can!
4. Keep questions fairly topline
If you ask a specific question, you’ll get a specific reply. This is fine in some instances but often disrupts the flow of the interview and leaves little space to explore the response. You are more likely to understand what an interviewee really thinks about something if they have the opportunity to describe it in their own words, and it’s a finding in itself to hear what the interviewee automatically prioritises in their explanation.
5. Use plain English
If you’re not aware of the Plain English Campaign (http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/about-us.html) already, then I strongly advise you read some of their free guides. Writing simple, clear questions reduces the risk of misinterpretation by both interviewer and interviewee. Plain English is also absolutely vital if you are interviewing someone whose first language isn’t English, or if you intend to have the interview guide translated.
6. Halve the number of questions
When you’ve drafted all of the questions you would like to ask, think about how long you have allowed to answer each one. If you have 12 questions in a 60-minute interview, you have allowed 5 minutes per question for the interviewee to respond and for the interviewer to probe. I would typically draft the questions I want to ask, then go back and remove or combine as many as I can. I try to allow a minimum of 3 minutes per question, and also consider how long the interviewee will need to look through any visual aides.
7. Include a few probes, but don’t go overboard
An experienced interviewer will know when and what to probe, particularly if the objective of the interviews is clear. Every probe you add should be considered as an additional question in the overall timing because it still takes time to run through them. In general, I would only include specific probes that would not automatically come to mind when asking the question.
8. Don’t make it too busy
Provide opportunities for ‘thinking’ time, both for the interviewer as well as the interviewee. There is often the need for the interviewee to process the question before answering, and for the interviewer to collect their thoughts and check that everything has been covered in the responses. If you include too much for the interviewer to do (e.g. questions, probes, scripted lines to read out, briefing materials to refer to), you don’t allow the interviewer the capacity to ‘listen’ to the responses and adapt their questions accordingly. Likewise, there should be enough flexibility in the guide to switch questions around in accordance with the interviewees train of thought.
9. Don’t forget the visual aides
Any visual aides/briefing materials for the interview should be equally brief - even if shared in advance. Trying to gather feedback on 20 slides is not really possible within a 60-minute interview, even without any other questions.
For example, if the aim of the interview is to understand what value is likely to drive procurement decisions of product x in local hospitals, you will probably want to split the interview questions into the following themes:
In the example provided, and assuming we have planned to cover this off in a 60-minute interview, I would limit the guide to 4-5 questions per key theme. That works out as 3-4 minutes per question, although in reality some questions will require more discussion than others. Four key themes works well for a 60-minute interview because you can split the interview into 15 minute portions (give or take a couple of minutes at the beginning and end for introductions and wrap up, respectively). To further help the interviewer you could also include the approximate timings for each section of the discussion guide.
For the example themes, you may want to share a series of slides summarising the values of Product X but I would typically limit this to around 5 slides. Some people like to send slides in advance of the interviews so the interviewee is able to prepare; I prefer to share them on my screen during the course of the interview, which is again why you don’t want too much content! Even if the slides are sent in advance, you should be prepared that the interviewee may not look at them until the time of the interview.
Of course, this is just my approach to developing a discussion guide and there are no hard and fast rules. These tips are also focused on qualitative primary research methods. If you have any other tips you usually follow, please do comment below as I’m interested in hearing other people’s experiences. Or, if you would like to explore this in further detail, get in touch; we are happy to develop a training workshop to help develop your team’s skills in relation to conducting primary research with payers.
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