Key informant interviews are qualitative, in-depth interviews of 15 to 35 people selected for their first-hand knowledge about a topic of interest. The interviews are loosely structured, relying on a list of issues to be discussed. Key informant interviews resemble a conversation among acquaintances, allowing a free flow of ideas and information. Interviewers frame questions spontaneously, probe for information and takes notes, which are elaborated on later. (USAID 1996)

Specifically, it is useful in the following situations: (USAID 1996)

  1. When qualitative, descriptive information is sufficient for decision- making.
  2. When there is a need to understand motivation, behavior, and perspectives of our customers and partners. In-depth interviews of program planners and managers, service providers, host government officials, and beneficiaries concerning their attitudes and behaviors about a USAID activity can help explain its successes and shortcomings.
  3. When a main purpose is to generate recommendations. Key informants can help formulate recommendations that can improve a program’s performance.
  4. When quantitative data collected through other methods need to be interpreted. Key informant interviews can provide the how and why of what happened. If, for example, a sample survey showed farmers were failing to make loan repayments, key informant interviews could uncover the reasons.
  5. When preliminary information is needed to design a comprehensive quantitative study. Key informant interviews can help frame the issues before the survey is undertaken.

Source: US Agency for International Development (USAID). Performance Monitoring & Evaluation TIPS: Conducting Key Informant Interviews. Washington, DC. 1996. Number 2. Accessible here.


Steps in conducting the interviews: (USAID 1996)

  1. Formulate study questions: These relate to specific concerns of the study. Study questions generally should be limited to five or fewer.
  2. Prepare a short interview guide: Key informant interviews do not use rigid questionnaires, which inhibit free discussion. However, interviewers must have an idea of what questions to ask. The guide should list major topics and issues to be covered under each study question.
  3. Select key informants: Selection consists of two tasks:
    1. First, identify the groups and organizations from which key informants should be drawn—for example, host government agencies, project implementing agencies, contractors, beneficiaries. It is best to include all major stakeholders so that divergent interests and perceptions can be captured.
    2. Second, select a few people from each category after consulting with people familiar with the groups under consideration. In addition, each informant may be asked to suggest other people who may be interviewed.
    3. Conduct interviews: establish rapport, sequence questions, phrase questions carefully to elicit detailed information, use probing techniques, maintain a neutral attitude, and minimize translation difficulties.
    4. Take adequate notes: Interviewers should take notes and develop them in detail immediately after each interview to ensure accuracy. Use a set of common subheadings for interview texts, selected with an eye to the major issues being explored. Common subheadings ease data analysis.
    5. Summarize interview data: Interview summary sheets. At the end of each interview, prepare a 1-2 page interview summary sheet reducing information into manageable themes, issues, and recommendations. Each summary should provide information about the key informant’s position, reason for inclusion in the list of informants, main points made, implications of these observations, and any insights or ideas the interviewer had during the interview.
      1. Descriptive codes. Coding involves a systematic recording of data. While numeric codes are not appropriate, descriptive codes can help organize responses. These codes may cover key themes, concepts, questions, or ideas, such as sustainability, impact on income, and participation of women.
      2. Storage and retrieval. The next step is to develop a simple storage and retrieval system. Access to a computer program that sorts text is very helpful. Relevant parts of interview text can then be organized according to the codes.
      3. Presentation of data. Visual displays such as tables, boxes, and figures can condense information, present it in a clear format, and highlight underlying relationships and trends. This helps communicate findings to decision-makers more clearly, quickly, and easily.
      4. Check for reliability & validity: Key informant interviews are susceptible to error, bias, and misinterpretation, which can lead to flawed findings and recommendations. Check representativeness of key informants. Take a second look at the key informant list to ensure no significant groups were overlooked. Assess reliability of informants, check interviewer or investigator bias, check for negative evidence, get feedback from informants.

Source: US Agency for International Development (USAID). Performance Monitoring & Evaluation TIPS: Conducting Key Informant Interviews. Washington, DC. 1996. Number 2. Accessible here.


Part 1: Documents Describing the Method

CARE. Barton, Tom (1998). Program Impact Evaluation Process, Module 2: M&E Toolbox. CARE Uganda. Accessible here.

IFRCHandbook for Monitoring & Evaluation, 1st Edition. International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies. Geneva, Switzerland. October 2002. Accessible here.

IFRCHow to conduct a food security assessment: A step-by-step guide for National Societies in Africa. 2nd Edition. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Geneva, Switzerland. 2006. Accessible here.

UNHCR. Handbook for Planning and Implementing Development Assistance for Refugees (DAR) Programmes. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Geneva, Switzerland. January 2005. Accessible here.

Part 2: Documents Utilizing the Method

CRS. Walters, E. & Brick, D. A Rapid Seed Assessment in the Southern Department of Haiti: An examination of the impact of the January 12 earthquake on seed systems. Catholic Relief Services. March 10, 2010. Accessible here. (includes sample questionnaire)

CRS. Project LISTEN Evaluation Report/Case Study. Catholic Relief Services Malawi and USAID. May 2007. Accessible here.

CRS. Livelihoods in Malawi: A livelihoods rapid assessment using the Integral Human Development conceptual framework. Catholic Relief Services. Baltimore, MD. 2010. Accessible here.

IFRC. Alexander, Jessica. Emergency Shelter Cluster Review: Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Geneva, Switzerland. April 2009. Accessible here.

STC. Psychological Assessment Report: Psychosocial Problems and Needs of Children in Flood Affected Areas in Pakistan. Save the Children. January 2011. Accessible here.

STC. George, A. & Menotti, E. Delivering Community-Based Treatment for Childhood Pneumonia and Diarrhea: a Mid-Term Assessment of Hasta el Ultimo Rincón, a Community Case Management Project of Save the Children in Nicaragua. Save the Children. January 13, 2009. Accessible here.

WV. Garred, Michelle. Conflict Sensitivity in Emergencies: Learning from the Asia Tsunami Response. World Vision Asia Pacific. Singapore. 2007. Accessible here.

UNHCR. Shelter from the storm: A real-time evaluation of UNHCR’s response to the emergency in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Policy Development and Evaluation Service (UNCHR PDES). Geneva, Switzerland. June 2011. Accessible here.

UNHCR. An independent evaluation of UNHCR’s Community Based Reintegration Programme in Southern Sudan. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Geneva, Switzerland. May 2011. Accessible here.


Unstructured interviewing involves direct interaction between the researcher and a respondent or group. It differs from traditional structured interviewing in several important ways. First, although the researcher may have some initial guiding questions or core concepts to ask about, there is no formal structured instrument or protocol. Second, the interviewer is free to move the conversation in any direction of interest that may come up. Consequently, unstructured interviewing is particularly useful for exploring a topic broadly. However, there is a price for this lack of structure. Because each interview tends to be unique with no predetermined set of questions asked of all respondents, it is usually more difficult to analyze unstructured interview data, especially when synthesizing across respondents. (Trochim)

Five Researcher Skills for Interviews: (Berg, pgs. 323)

  1. An Inquiring Mind – willingness to ask questions before, during, and after data collection, and to constantly challenge oneself.
  2. Listening, Observing, and Sensing – assimilating large amounts of information without bias.
  3. Adaptability & Flexibility – handling unanticipated events and change data-collection strategies if they’re not functioning effectively.
  4. Understanding the Issues – so as to not merely record data but interpret and react once it is collected. Being able to determine if additional data sources are required.
  5. Unbiased Interpretation of the Data – degree to which the researcher is open to contradictory findings.

UCLA Center for Health Policy Research

Telephone Interviews (UCLA)

Telephone interviews may be the most convenient and least time-intensive way to interview busy key informants. The major shortcoming of this approach is not having the personalized interaction that is otherwise possible through a face-to-face interview. However, if you develop a structured telephone key informant interview tool to address your primary questions, the telephone interview may provide all the valuable information you are looking for.

Face-to-Face Interviews (UCLA)

Face-to-Face interviews are the most frequently used format. This format is more time intensive because it requires additional scheduling and logistical planning. The advantages to this technique are that it provides a free-exchange of ideas, and lends itself to asking more complex questions and getting more detailed responses.

Note: This UCLA source also includes specific information on when & how to conduct key informant interviews.