Evidence-Based Innovation Blog

Business School In-Depth Interviews: Getting Detailed Stakeholder Insight

Posted on May 3, 2012 8:47:00 AM

Find me on:

business school in-depth interviews

Sometimes privacy issues, sensitive topics, or the need for very in-depth information make one-on-one conversations with research participants more appropriate or fruitful than focus group sessions (e.g., when MBA applicants’ privacy requirements discourage group sessions).  That’s when business schools will opt for in-depth interviews (IDIs) as an excellent research strategy.

A skilled interviewer focuses intently on one person’s thoughts or opinions during each IDI.  From each participant’s responses, we draw insights about our community of stakeholders by recognizing common themes, attitudes, needs, or expectations.  With the benefits of one-on-one conversation, IDIs can be valuable because:

  • Themes and topics can be explored in even greater depth in one-on-one conversations;
  • Each and every participant responds to each and every question;
  • Pre-planned, detailed questions can bring intricate decision-making processes into relief;
  • Skilled interviewers can more easily explore nuances or contradictions in perspectives than in a group setting; and
  • A greater sense of privacy often makes participants generally more willing to share in quantity and depth, and more open with sensitive issues.

Meeting with participants one-on-one can demonstrate additional benefits.  For one thing, IDIs eliminate the possibility that their responses could be swayed by other people’s values, beliefs, feelings, or good or bad ideas.   For another, with in-depth attention to one respondent at a time, IDIs can yield detailed anecdotes explaining how and why that person selects specific brands or products; moreover, we can find well-rounded stories clarifying the roles that specific brands and products play in each person’s life.

IDIs are especially effective with geographically-diverse populations, time-strapped executives, board members, or faculty, or where privacy is required.  Collectively, IDIs provide a unique lens through which we understand our community of internal and external customers intimately.

What is an in-depth interview?

An IDI is a research method in which an unbiased interviewer meets with several select participants one-on-one.  Although each meeting is ideally a relaxed, organic discussion, pre-determined questions and a well-thought discussion guide help the interviewer address critical areas of inquiry and keep conversation focused.

When do we use IDIs?     

Whenever we need highly in-depth knowledge on how people think or feel about our brands and products; to shed light on decision-making processes; to encourage participant sharing in quantity and quality, particularly in cases where topics may be sensitive.  For example, business schools can use IDIs to:

  • Gain insight from board members, administrators, and faculty to highlight school culture as a brand asset;
  • Learn non-matriculants’ decision-making factors; or
  • Ask alumni across the country about specific program experiences.

Why do we use IDIs?        

With detailed data on how individual people think, feel, or make decisions about our brands and products, we can tailor products and write nuanced communication pieces that resonate with our entire audience.


Dr. Joyce Kurpiers, is a perceptive ethnographer, group moderator and interviewer.  She serves as qualitative research consultant to Percept Research clients.  Joyce welcomes your questions and comments.

Click me

Topics: Qualitative Research, In-depth Interviews, Joyce Kurpiers