Human Organization Research: Field Relations and Techniques

By Richard N. Adams; Jack J. Preiss | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
THE WELL-INFORMED INFORMANT*1

Kurt W. Back

INTERVIEWING situations can be classified according to the interest which is centered in the interviewee himself. At one extreme, in clinical interviews, the purpose is to understand the respondent, to explore the interrelationships of his reactions. In opinion-survey interviewing, a person is selected as a representative of a population, but his attitudes and opinions are important and he is the only one who can give them. In surveys of factual information, such as census or consumer data, certain facts about the interviewee are wanted in order to derive figures for the total population. Here the data are not necessarily obtained from the interviewee; for instance, age and income can be obtained from records. But the data, however they are obtained, must be about the person himself if an accurate picture of the total distribution is to be found. Finally, in some types of interviewing the interest lies in the information only, not in the interviewee. If the information can be obtained more easily some other way, by looking up a book or by direct observation, so much the better. The function of the interview is only that of obtaining facts which, because of lapse of time, distance, attempts at secrecy, or other reasons, are not available for direct observation.

Turning our attention to the interviewee, we can easily see that differ

____________________
*
Human Organization, Vol. 14, No. 4 ( 1956), pp. 30-33.
1
This paper is based on a research program on interviewing methodology at the Bureau of Applied Social Research, Columbia University under contract 33(038)14313 with the Human Resources Institute, Air Research and Development Command, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The research reported here is that of the author and should not be construed as reflecting the view or endorsement of the Department of Air Force. The study was under the over-all direction of Lee M. Wiggins, deputy director of the Air Force Project. The planning, execution, and analysis of the study was made jointly by all members of the project staff. This may be identified as publication No. A-184 of the Bureau of Applied Social Research, Columbia University. The author wishes to thank especially the following persons for their major contributions to the subject matter of this paper: Dean Manheimer, who designed the large-scale study of the informant; Bernard Levenson, who is responsible for a great part of the analysis; and Joseph A. Precker, who developed and analyzed the perception tests.

-179-

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