Going prepared into an interview gets better results and is a compliment to the person you are interviewing

Proper preparation before meeting someone helps me dig deeper into the areas of the story that most need exploring. If I’ve done my homework first, I can ask more pertinent and accurate questions.

On the downside, being over-prepared runs the risk of having made up one’s mind before even meeting the subject. So there’s a balance to be struck, every time.


Background research

Before going to interview someone, talk to Sambhavna community workers, others in their community who may know them. If their story involves an outside institution like BMHRC or Hamidia, then find out what you can about those places beforehand.

The better informed you are, the more at ease the interviewee is likely to be, as they will perceive that you have taken some trouble and they don’t have to explain the background, you and they can focus accurately on the details of their story.


General questionnaire

You can have with you a general questionnaire such as those used in the Clinic for community and health studies. This is a check-list of the basic things you always need to know, name, age, details of exposure, job, etc.

Some people may be intimidated by being asked questions from a form, so it may be better to memorise the list of basic questions, so you can ask them naturally in the course of conversation.


Prepared questions

If you already know something of a person’s story before you meet them, you can prepare a list of questions in advance. You don’t have to stick to these questions, and during an actual interview you may decide to omit some of them.


An open mind

However much you prepare, always retain an open mind. If a person surprises you, appears, acts and speaks contrary to what you have been led to expect, then treat it as a good thing, something to be investigated, to throw more light on the situation.


Be prepared to let go of your preconceptions and work with what you get

Situation 1: You are talking to an art instructor at Chingari. She has got the children to produce a number of paintings which we are planning to send to our donors at Christmas. Some of the paintings are vibrant and magical, but the majority are poor scribbles, just a squirl of crayon.




Response: This is actually better, because we can make the point that many of the children cannot stand, talk, or use their limbs properly, and yet they have done their best to make a painting to say thank you. Treasure these paintings. They are precious.

Situation 2: You are talking to Sachin, hoping for some positive news about his legs. Instead he tells you he is deeply depressed and thinks life is not worth carrying on with. This is not what you or, in your opinion, the donors, will want to hear. But instead of trying to steer him to more cheerful matters, journey with him into his depression and encourage him to express his feelings and try to share them. You may find (as actually happened) that a week later he presents you with a poem like this:



neither friend nor enemy I have, nor fear of dying, nor wish to live seems that while god gave me life he made me forget how to walk sure, he gave me a body, but forgot to fill it up with life
I myself have now forgotten whether I’m alive or if I have died

when misery is taken to be happiness and happiness sorrow, this we call everyday life
when pain dissolves in laughter, this is called Chingari the love shown by Apa and Didi and all the folk at Chingari has taught me to love my life













Next:  Tools and techniques of the story researcher