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  • 00:11

    PHILIPP KOKER: My name is Philipp Koker.I'm a postdoctoral research associateat University College London, School of Slavonic and EastEuropean studies.In this tutorial, we are going to talkabout what characterizes elites as a respondent group,how to prepare and conduct interviews,and we're going to discuss the issueof reliability and other factors thatneed to be taken into account.

  • 00:42

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: Elite interviews are very popular research methods.They can help researchers to gain insights and informationthat would not be available in any other form.They can also help to interpret the personalitiesbehind certain decisions, and therebyprovide better explanations of the outcome of events.

  • 01:03

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: Elite interviews are therefore used in different projectsand in different ways across the social sciences,mostly, but not only, by PhD students and early careerresearchers.Elites can be loosely defined as those in close proximityto power or as people who hold or haveheld privileged positions in society.

  • 01:35

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: Elites can be quite diverse as a respondent group with regardsto age, social background, and education.However, they share certain characteristics which set themapart from other interviewees.Elites are in positions of responsibility,and even when they're out of office or retired,still have a busy schedule so that the timefor building rapport and asking questions is very limited.

  • 02:00

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: Elite respondents are used to being interviewed,which can help the researcher.On the other hand, they also more skilledat deflecting questions and may attemptto take control of the agenda.Elites may also more frequently havean interest in misrepresenting their role in their own favor.Last, elites are more likely than other respondent groupsto object to closed questions.

  • 02:27

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: They prefer open ended questions,which allow them to elaborate on their answers and their views.As in every research project involving interviews,one needs to think about what exactlyinterviews are needed for.

  • 02:48

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: Elite interviews are an attractive methodbecause they allow for gaining specialist knowledge thatis not otherwise available.Nevertheless, due to the added time and effortthat it takes to arrange, conduct,and to analyze elite interviews, including them in your studycan be a futile endeavor.Not all interview types are appropriatefor elite interviewing, and you needto think about how this relates to your research question.

  • 03:15

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: Due to the reluctance of elite respondentsto answer closed questions and due to time constraints,a majority studies uses semi-structured interviews.Semi-structured interviews allow for the inclusionof open ended questions, but are also relatively focusedand give the researcher more control over the interviewvis a vis the respondent.

  • 03:38

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: As with other interview research,you should also talk to your departmental or university datarepresentative.Interviewing political elites can oftenbe exempt from ethics approval.However, you always need to check with specific referenceto your research what approval is needed.

  • 04:03

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: One of the most important points in preparing elite interviewsis background research.Only when you're really well prepared canyou make sure that you ask relevant questions or challengeelites on what they said in orderto ensure response validity.Another key to preparation is the developmentof an interview guide.

  • 04:26

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: An interview guide is a set of questionsgrouped in thematic order that you would like to ask.Quite often it is not possible to create just one interviewguide for all of your interviews.For example, in a study on the work of members of parliament,you wouldn't probably have different interview guidesfor members of parliament, the people whowork in the office, and journalists or other expertsthat you might want to interview.

  • 04:52

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: Of course, all this preparation is futileif you do not get an interview.How to approach a prospective respondentdepends very much on the respective interviewee.Nowadays, you can quite often call their officeor send an email, but some people stillrecommend that you send a formal letter requesting an interview.In any case, you need to be aware that most of the timeyou will not be able to contact elites directly,but you have to go through an additional layer of secretariesor personal assistants.

  • 05:23

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: You need to make sure that you convince them and elitesthat only they can answer your questionand that their contribution is needed to successfully completeyour research project.As elites are very busy, you mightneed to plan some time for arranging interviewsin advance, particularly if you request more than 30 minutesof their time.

  • 05:45

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: However, elites also often have unexpected breaksin their schedule, during which they'rewilling to fit researchers in, so you need to be flexible.At the beginning of the interview,you will usually explain to respondentonce again what your research is aboutand gain their consent to be interviewed.

  • 06:09

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: Particularly high ranking and foreign elitesmight be reluctant to sign a participation or consent form,so you should check with your ethics counsel or universitydata representative whether it isOK to establish consent orally.Before you actually begin to conduct the interview,you need to agree with you respondenton how you're going to record their answersand how you're going to use them.

  • 06:34

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: For example, whether you plan to quote them directly or not.Quite often, elites will allow you to tape record interviews,but if you're talking about particularlycontroversial or sensitive subjects,it might be advisable to take notesby hand to increase rapport.When conducting the interview, youshould be aware that the power relationship between respondentand interviewer is quite differentto non-elite interviews.

  • 06:60

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: In interviews with other respondent groups,it is usually the interviewer who holds more power,because they ask the question and control the flowof the conversation, but in elite interviews,they only in a more powerful position,but they also hold the informationthat you, the researcher, are after.Here you need to make sure that you're well prepared sothat you retain some control over the interviewand are not led off topic.

  • 07:26

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: Sometimes it can be advisable to politely challenge eliteson what they have said to increase response validity,but also to show them that you're well preparedand are challenging their powerful position.

  • 07:47

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: After the interview, you should, of course,thank your respondent and maybe their staff, whohelped arrange the interview.You should also send a letter or email thanking them once againfor their time.This helps you to keep a foot in the doorand maybe come back for another interview or a fewfollow up questions.

  • 08:08

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: When you're thinking about including a literal quotefrom one of your interviewees in your study,this might sometimes even be necessary.Analyzing interview data is a topic for itselfand always depends on your specific project.

  • 08:32

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: However, in elite interviews, youshould specifically think about the issue of reliability.Reliability is, of course, an issue in all research,yet in interview research, particularly involving elites,we need to remind ourselves that our respondents are in now wayobligated to tell us the truth, and in extreme cases,might even consciously mislead us or misrepresenttheir role in certain events.

  • 08:58

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: Respondents might also not remember events correctlyand may fuse them with what they've read or heardfrom other sources.Interviews and elite interviews in particularshould therefore not be used as the only method in any study.

  • 09:24

    PHILIPP KOKER [continued]: In this tutorial, I've talked about interviewing elites,who are usually defined as people in close proximityto power.While they can be a relatively diverse respondent group,they share certain characteristics that set themapart from other respondents.These characteristics need to be taken accountat different stages of the research process,not only when preparing and conducting elite interviews,but also when analyzing the results.

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Publication Year: 2017

Video Type:Tutorial

Methods: Elite interviews, Semi-structured interviews

Keywords: challenging behavior; elites; flexibility; gratitude; knowledge; memory; motivation; personality; power and power relations; practices, strategies, and tools; preparedness; rapport; recording; representation; roles and responsibilities ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Dr. Philipp Koeker explains how elite interviews differ from other interviews, and he offers suggestions for success. He identifies elite characteristics, access difficulties, power challenges, and reliability.

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An Introduction to Elite Interviewing

Dr. Philipp Koeker explains how elite interviews differ from other interviews, and he offers suggestions for success. He identifies elite characteristics, access difficulties, power challenges, and reliability.

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