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Interviews as Stories

As evaluators and researchers at AKA we are always collecting data. Qualitative data collected from key informant interviews are one of the richest data sources we come across as storytellers and seekers of meaning. In December 2021 we completed an overall evaluation of the Spotted Bull Resource Recovery Center Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) MAT is one of the most effective ways to reduce relapses and overdoses, but it is controversial, and in some communities we serve, it is a new approach to supporting recovery.

Our evaluation of this program was about telling the story of how funding increased access to MAT while changing community perspectives about addiction and recovery. Our interns are members of the community where the MAT program was implemented. Kelley Milligan, one of the best evaluators in the world, developed a training for our interns to prepare them for conducting interviews with staff, clients, and advocates involved in the MAT program.

Kelley and I talked about this process during a recent meeting. Here are some questions I asked.

What did you do?

We were working with the interns who were going to be conducting interviews for a tribal program. We wanted to help them understand methods behind the interviews and the benefits of using Indigenous storytelling, the techniques, and the approach. The western framework for conducting interviews would not work. So, we developed a 1-hour training on interviews as stories for our interns

How did you develop the content?

I considered all of the protocols, power sharing, importance of reciprocity, and Indigenous values. We did a literature review and looked at what is out there, I pulled information that could help frame out the importance of this and key considerations.

We created a guide, Key Informant Interview Techniques and Indigenous Storytelling Methods and then planned the training.

What about the training?

We conducted a training for interns. It was an online training via Zoom with a few interns. I loved the intimacy of the small group. The training dove into the methods that the guide highlighted with examples and techniques on how to conduct the interviews. I think after the training was I provided additional assistance and guidance as needed. My role was pretty hands off at that point.

How are interview techniques that uphold storytelling different from western frameworks?

These techniques are different because it goes through the purpose behind the interviews, and the ways that communities can use interviews and stories generated. Instead of being an evaluation or research focus, we focus on the construction of findings and data sharing and making sure the community's voce is heard and reflected appropriately. Our storytelling interview guides often start with the question, "Thinking back, tell me a story about this program." This encourages people to focus on what was important to them. Some people told the entire story of the program, others told just the end, this got to the heart of the story. This is different from a traditional evaluator-researcher framework.

Must Know Tips for Collecting Stories

You have been doing interviews for a long time, what is your advice for collecting qualitative data for stories in community settings?

  1. Practice collaboration from the start, develop the interview guides and questions with the community

  2. Be open minded

  3. Probing helps but making sure that it's a comfortable environment.

  4. It always helps to have someone from the community doing the interview.

  5. Recognize that it goes beyond the interview. The whole process is recognizing the importance of sharing results and making sure they are analyzed, and results are used by the community.

Everyone has a story to tell. Evaluators and researchers are often tasked with collecting these stories, listening to them, and finding meaning. If someone asked you today, "Tell me a story about COVID-19" what story would you tell them? I can think of a hundred different stories about COVID-19, but most of these stories will never make it past my stream of consciousness. If I had to select just one story to tell, it would be about the people who have passed away because of COVID-19. Their absence is what has been so deeply felt in our work. All of the other stories do not matter that much. So, when we ask someone to tell a story during an interview, we get something real, tangible, authentic about a certain issue that would never be known, unless asked. This is the power of story.



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