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Where to meet? Tips on choosing interview spaces

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I recently did several investigations which involved a bit of creativity when choosing the interview location.  The situations made me think of how an interview space can affect a participant’s experience and perhaps the quality of evidence that is elicited during that meeting.  Below, I offer some thoughts to consider when choosing an interview space.

First Principles: What is the purpose of the interview?

The interview is an opportunity for the investigator to neutrally gather evidence.  It is also an opportunity for the interviewee to talk about their understanding and observations of the situation at hand.  The interview is often one of the key, if not the main, sources of information that an investigator will have.

Given the importance of interviews, there are distinct advantages to conducting the initial interview in person to allow for a more natural, spontaneous conversation than what may be possible through the telephone or by email.[1]  How then can the selection of the interview space work in concert with the purposes of the interview to create an experience that is effective for both the participants and the overall investigative process?

Privacy and Confidentiality

Privacy and confidentiality must be key considerations.  What happens in the interview should stay within the circle of those authorized to know about the interview.  Usually, that circle consists of the independent investigator, the interviewee, their representative, and any support persons.  They should be the only people in the interview space.  For that reason, public spaces such as coffee shops or building lobbies should be avoided.

Even where the room is private, consider if the contents or the fact of the interview can leak out to passerby.  How soundproof is the room?  Does the space have windows or glass walls that cannot be covered?  Can people see who is entering or going towards the room?  If the space is being used for back to back interviews, is there potential for the individual interviewees to bump into each other in a hallway or a reception area?

A note of caution here about using spaces in the common workplace or institution in which the parties or the witnesses know each other.  By the time there is an investigation, it is not unusual for a wider circle of colleagues or friends to be talking about the situation.  Holding interviews at the workplace or campus building may invite inadvertent disclosure or observations on why successive people are leaving and returning to their work areas at regular intervals.  If the interview must take place at the workplace or institutional campus, consider holding it far from where the parties are usually located, or during non-business hours.

Neutrality

Ideally, the space is a neutral one without meaning or significance to the interviewee.  A neutral location bolsters the actual and perceived independence of an investigation.  Neutrality is another reason to not hold interviews at the parties’ workplace or institution.  Absent strong reasons such as health factors, interviews should also not take place in personal residences.

Accessibility

How easy is it for an interviewee to get to and be reasonably comfortable in the interview space?  Depending on the facts of the situation, here are some accessibility factors to consider:

  • Does the location offer barrier-free access for people with mobility restrictions?
  • Is there convenient parking or transit options nearby?
  • Might there be single stall and/or gender-neutral washrooms?
  • Are there provisions such as a scent-free environment or dimmable lights for people with environmental sensitivities?

Ideas for Potential Interview Spaces

In light of the above considerations, here are some of the spaces that I and other colleagues have used:

  • Our firm’s offices
  • Private library meeting rooms
  • Hotel conference spaces
  • The offices of the interviewee’s legal or union representative
  • Meeting rooms in municipal buildings and community centres
  • Meeting rooms on a university campus, if the investigation does not involve a university
  • In smaller cities, room rentals in the Chambers of Commerce
  • Daily office rentals in co-working spaces

There are also websites that match those who have with those who need meeting spaces.  Here are some sites that I am aware of:

[1] After the initial interview, the investigator may have follow-up questions that can be addressed via telephone or email.  When deciding between in-person or electronic formats, one may wish to consider the length and complexity of the questions, and the possible impact the answers may have on the findings.