by Shruti Ravi

This post inaugurates a series of write-ups on the Users Experiences under Digitalisation. Like this post, they will be based on the field experiences of the team members and researchers of the project Tracking Access under Digitalization. The team is conducting in- depth interviews with Cable & DTH users in Delhi and Patna to understand coping mechanism (of television users) to Digitization of Television Distribution.

I had the unique albeit disjointed experience of being present at interviews as well as conducting them for TAD in March this year- nearly four months after I had stopped engaging with the evolving cable scene in the country. My experience with the interviews had till then been restricted to the Pilot Study conducted in June 2014, though this had a different format. The pace in that instance was slow as the respondents were more often than not, people who were known to the team. An average interview lasted for two and a half, to three hours at times. I recall discussing with Pranav of the Center for Knowledge Societies (CKS) that if an interview didn’t yield enough the option to scrap it should be kept open. This particular suggestion still remains relevant. And I will come back to it later.

???????????????????????????????Cut to March 2015: The questionnaire remained largely the same, with a few additions/changes made after reviewing it in the aftermath of the pilot. The thing that stayed with me about the Pilot study was that way too much time was spent on eliciting information about the family history and the respondent’s general background. And that by the time we reached the later sections, the respondents were distracted and the answers we got in those sections were a lot less rich than the ones’ we got before. Therefore this time round we debated if it made more sense to turn around the flow of questions- i.e. the ones towards the end were asked first while the initial lot involving family history and background were pushed for later.

We put to test our new interview format during one of our sessions. The TAD interviewer, Feroze got to the ‘meat’ of the issue right at the beginning. The ‘meat’ in this case being questions closely related to the actual changeover from analogue to digital, the broadest goal of our project. The questions typically related to how and why the subscriber’s decided to change over from analogue to digital, the visual experience, problems confronting cable or DTH connection, billing options, content preferences and the like.

But then we realized that this had not turned out as expected. The hazards of starting with the more ‘boring’ and technical questions without easing the interviewee into the situation actually became problematic. The answers were pat, reductive and not thought through. The good thing about the earlier experience where we asked questions exactly in the order that it was framed in, had the merit of making the interviewees comfortable. He/she gets used to the flow and considering the length of the questionnaire which takes approximately an hour to complete, the respondent would actually warm up to the subject and than answers would flow in. Clearly the results were much better.

???????????????????????????????When people take time out to tell their lives in detail, there develops an element of comfort between the interviewer and the respondent as the latter begins sharing things of a private nature. Slowly in the course of the interview an element of trust builds up and as the interview moves towards the more dry and technical sections later, the interviewee continues to be involved with the subject at hand. And though respondents may at times hesitate, lapse into moments of silence in between questions and even not come up with a ‘correct sounding’ answer, it still brought value to the project.

In this regard, I am of the opinion that the questionnaire, as it is in its current sequence is well designed to let both the interviewer and respondent make that journey from initial introductions and awkwardness to a full- fledged, no-holds-barred conversation. Though one may add that in some cases the time taken to get through the questionnaire can become a discomfiting factor both for the interviewer and the interviewee. I found my teammates (and myself, sometimes), invariably speeding through questions because a stray comment or fidgeting by the respondent family had already alerted us to their decreasing interest in our questions.

I would also like to suggest a course correction. And I fall back on an insight gathered earlier that I mentioned right at the beginning- Interviewers should be empowered to think on their feet and this may involve junking interviews that don’t look as working out. There have been instances where the interviewee is nervous and even paranoid about either the interviewer or about the nature of questions being asked by them. In one case we landed up in a household right in the midst of bereavement related function. In another household the chief income earner who had all the answers to our questions was bedridden with typhoid and chose to yell out his answers from inside his bedroom that was interpreted to us by his 13 year old son. The situation often turned comic with one of us repeatedly asking him, “Sorry, what did your father say, again?”