The contextual inquiry is a specific type of interview
for gathering field data from users. It is usually done by
one interviewer speaking to one interviewee (person being
interviewed) at a time. The aim is to gather as much data
as possible from the interviews for later analysis.
Important benefits of this type of interview are:
- Interviewees are interviewed in their context, when doing
their tasks, with as little interference from the interviewer
- Data should be gathered during interviews with little
or no analysis, interview should result in raw data.
Planning a contextual inquiry means to make sure that you
can interview with the right users and that they are not entirely
negative being interviewed with. In traditional interviews
it is sometimes difficult to get interviewees to interview
with, because they claim that they do not have got the time.
In contextual inquiry it is actually much easier, because
the main part of the interview actually consists of watching
users do their work and interacting with colleagues, which
doesn't steal much time from the users.
When at the interview with the interviewee it is very important
to have a focus, a focus can be seen as a number of assumptions
and beliefs concerning what we want to accomplish and how
we want to accomplish it (short example: "We're building
a system to handle customer inquiries. It is a straight-forward
process. Should manage 100 customer inquiries a day").
Building up this focus can be done in conjunction with the
person ordering the contextual inquiry. Another way of building
a focus is for example by focus
groups or user surveys.
Important when it comes to focus is to realise that a focus
is never, ever true. It truly is not complete and represents
(ideally) only part of the truth. For successful interview
results, the focus must be severely challenged by the interviewer.
There are typically four phases in the interview:
- Traditional interview, which is the phase where
the interviewer gets an overview of the users work and start
to establish trust (by promising confidentiality, tell them
reason for interview) with the user. Also start recording
during this phase, if customers are part of the users interaction,
make sure that you get their consent or if that is not possible,
do not record. If the situation is such that the interview
cannot be recorded, it can be beneficial to be two interviewers.
- The 'switch', from a traditional interview to
a master-apprentice relation. It is important to tell the
users that we want to learn from them by watching and occasionally
interrupting. Make sure that you have agreed with them when
you can interrupt. It is important to be able to ask users
about things happening, but at the same time not disturbing
their work, for example during interaction with customers.
- Observation. The users are the master and they
'run the show'. The interviewer (apprentice) should only
be there watching and occasionally interrupt (when feasible)
to ask questions about things that occurred. Do not hesitate
to ask any questions that may or may not be of relevance.
When at the interview it is impossible to know what is relevant
or not relevant, so note down as much as possible. When
observing the users, remember your focus and probe them
depending on the focus.
- Summarisation. In this phase the interviewer
should summarise what they have learnt during interviews.
Be attentive to users reaction to your summary, because
you do not want to get it wrong (they do not always tell
you that you are wrong, so you have to figure it out by
yourself). If you didn't get it right, ask them questions
and build the story together with them.
Reporting and analysis of data takes place next. See below
enterprise list of publications
Since this method produces vast amounts of data it is important
to analyse the data. This can be done using the contextual
design method or any other method that may be handy. Examples
of method that may be useful is task
analysis to verify the process. The most useful method
to analyse the amount of data may be to create an affinity
Beyer, H. & Holtzblatt, K. (1998) Contextual Design:
Defining Customer-Centered Systems. San Francisco: Morgan
Kaufmann Publishers ISBN 1-55860-411-1