Stakeholder Interviews

Stakeholder interviews are conducted by a lead interviewer who moves through a series of stakeholder-specific core questions and follow-up questions that explore a State's systemic factors. The stakeholders interviewed may be State- or local-level stakeholders. There will also be an official note-taker and one or more supporting note-takers who take notes during the interview. The four roles in each stakeholder interview, then, are interviewer, stakeholder, official note-taker, and supporting note-taker.

Before each interview, the interview team of interviewer and note-takers will meet to prepare. Following the interview, the supporting note-takers will revise and clarify their notes and then collaborate with the official note-taker to produce a final set of clean and complete notes. These final notes are then transferred to the central server along with all the other SIG and OSRI records at the end of the review week, and they serve as an integral component of the review's Final Report. Key ideas and themes raised during each day's interviews are also shared at each evening's nightly debriefing.

Interview Roles

Basically, an interview consists of three types of participants:

  • The stakeholder being interviewed. In most cases, this will be a group of people.
  • The interviewer.
  • The note-takers. One will be an "official" note-taker, while the others will be supporting note-takers.


State-level stakeholders are interviewed by the NRT Team Leader, while local-level stakeholders are interviewed by the NRT Local Site Leader. This person will lead the interview, asking core questions and follow-up questions of the stakeholder to fully explore the State's systemic factors. To prepare for the interview, the interviewer must be thoroughly familiar with the SIG content and structure. He or she will prepare for each interview before it takes place by setting parameters and guidelines for note-takers, and will provide an overview of the day's interviews at the nightly debriefing.


The interview team's note-takers will consist of Federal and State Local Site Leaders. They share responsibility for capturing all of the information provided by the stakeholder during the interview. As with the interviewer, each note-taker is expected to be thoroughly familiar with the SIG content and structure. During the interview, the note-taker's job is to listen attentively to all questions and answers and record everything accurately without interpretation. They are also expected to revise their notes for clarity as soon as possible after the interview is complete so that they can contribute accurately to the final notes.

Remember that, although there typically will be several note-takers at each interview, there is only one "official" version of each SIG. These official notes must be taken using the automated application, and at the end of the review week they are uploaded to the central server along with all of the site's other records. This upload takes place after the other other note-takers at the interview (considered supporting note-takers) have had the opportunity to provide input on the official notes' content.

While supporting note-takers are encouraged to use the automated application to take their notes, it is not a requirement. Supporting note-takers may, if they wish, use a word processing program to type their notes, or may even choose to take hand-written notes. Keep in mind, though, that supporting note-takers who do use the automated application for note-taking must remember to label their notes as "supporting notes" when they add a new interview. This helps eliminate the possibility of their notes becoming confused with the official notes when it becomes time to upload the SIG to the central server.

Preparing for Stakeholder Interviews

The specific roles of interviewers and note-takers can vary from interview to interview. Sometimes, the interviewer may want note-takers to remain silent during an interview, only interrupting if some specific piece of information needs clarification. Other times, the leader may want note-takers to take a more active role and even ask follow-up questions in addition to clarification questions. The interviewer may take notes during the interview or may concentrate solely on asking questions.

Some interviewers may even develop signals, such as setting down a pen or folding arms over the chest, to indicate to note-takers that an interviewee’s answer has strayed off-topic and does not need to be recorded. Other lead interviewers may want note-takers to capture everything, even if it seems to be off-topic.

Because of these variances, it is critically important for the entire interview team to meet before the interview and clearly outline expectations and responsibilities. At this meeting, it should be determined exactly who is taking notes as well as who is the primary note-taker. Additionally, the interviewer should make clear exactly who is responsible for asking questions, either as follow-ups or clarifications. If he or she wants note-takers to ask questions, that procedure should be established as well. The interviewer should also clearly define any cues or signals he or she will use during the interview to indicate off-topic information that note-takers don’t need to capture and explain the procedure for how the team will come back together after the day's interviews to compile the final record.

Note that this "meeting" may be very informal in nature. It may take place in the lobby of the hotel, before the interview team leaves to conduct the day's interviews. It may also take place in the car on the way over to the interviews. Regardless of how this meeting takes place, it is very important that everybody involved in the interview process has a clear understanding of their specific roles and responsibilities. Additionally, be sure that you have read through and committed to memory the entire SIG. Understanding how the various items relate to the systemic factors is critical for interviewers to ensure that they ask the correct questions and for note-takers to ensure that they take good notes.

Conducting the Interview

Most stakeholder interviews will last for approximately 1 hour. Following the arrival of the stakeholders, the interviewer will spend a few minutes explaining the purpose of the interview, including information about how the review process works, the timeframe that the review is examining, and the overall purpose of the review. The interviewer will attempt to set a comfortable, non-threatening tone for the interview and will facilitate introductions of everyone involved.

The interview itself will start with whatever core question the interviewer has chosen as a starting point. As the stakeholder responds to the question, the note-takers will take notes on what is said. The interviewer will then determine whether the stakeholder's response warrants any follow-up questions, or whether another core question should be asked. While it is possible that the interviewer will proceed through the SIG consecutively, moving from item to item in numeric sequence, it is more likely that he or she will jump around as the conversation shifts focus. In other words, just because Item 29 follows Item 28 does not mean that the interviewer can't jump ahead to Item 36. For this reason, it is very important that the note-takers are completely familiar with the SIG's content and structure and understand how to move between items quickly and efficiently.

At the conclusion of the interview, the interviewer typically will give stakeholders the opportunity to share any other information that they did not have the opportunity to discuss. The interviewer will then thank the stakeholders for their time and end the interview. At this point, the note-takers will either prepare for the next interview or begin the process of revising their notes and compiling the final record. Issues and themes raised during the interview may also be brought up at that evening's nightly debriefing.

Note-Taking During the Interview

Effective note-taking during a stakeholder interview requires attentive listening, good summarizing skills, and a thorough understanding of the SIG's content and structure. The goal of each note-taker is to capture as much of what is shared by the stakeholders as possible, as accurately as possible, with the understanding that the notes will be almost exclusively in the form of summary or paraphrase. Note-takers should not filter information during an interview. In other words, you should not be deciding during the interview what is "important" information and what is "not important." Rather, you should concentrate on capturing all the information you hear and then edit out off-topic content later.

Remember that there will only be one "official" note-taker at each interview. This official note-taker must take his or her notes using the automated application, and after the interview is over these notes will be revised (with the collaboration of the supporting note-takers) to create the final notes that will be uploaded to the central server at the end of the review week. Supporting note-takers should also use the automated application to take their notes, because this streamlines the process and makes it easy to move from item to item as necessary. However, if a supporting note-taker is more comfortable taking hand-written notes or typing notes in some other format during the interview, this is acceptable as long as appropriate steps are taken to make those notes accessible to the official note-taker when the revision process begins.

Remember, though, that while you can cut and paste notes from one item to another within the automated application, you must never cut and paste notes from Word or other outside programs into the application itself. Doing so can cause critical, irrecoverable errors that may result in the loss of all your saved data.

Recording Questions and Responses

Effective note-taking in stakeholder interviews involves capturing the essence of everything that is said. This includes the core questions and follow-up questions asked by the interviewer as well as the responses shared by the stakeholders.

In general, as you’re taking notes, remember that you should listen carefully and not filter out information as being "important" or "not important." Your goal should be to try to capture everything, as summary or paraphrase, as accurately and completely as you can. Use shortcuts, though. Don’t be afraid to abbreviate, even if you’re making up your own abbreviations, and don’t worry about spelling and punctuation. Following the interview, you will take steps to revise and clarify your notes and then work collaboratively with the rest of the interview team to compile the final, official record.

Recording Questions

The first step in good note-taking is to capture each question as it is asked by the interviewer. This is important because, at times, the questions that an interviewer asks may not reflect what is actually printed in the instrument. For example, an interviewer may ask a core question and pair it with a follow-up question, or may string several of the listed follow-up questions together, or even ask a follow-up question that is not included in the SIG itself. Therefore, in order to understand the response, you must capture the question as it is asked, not as it is written.

What this also means is that you, as a note-taker, must know the instrument well enough that you understand which item is being referenced even if the question does not match what you expect to see in the SIG. You must not only recognize the topic of discussion, but you must be able to navigate to that item quickly, capture the question, and then begin taking notes on the response. Otherwise, you may find yourself lost in the interview and miss valuable information.

A good formatting technique to keep in mind for capturing questions is to insert a double space after each question that you record. Then, on a new line, begin to record the response. By separating the question from the answer, you make it easier to skim your notes later and see where the subject breaks take place. This also makes it easier to revise your notes and move material to different items, if necessary.

Recording Responses

When it comes to capturing the stakeholder response to a question, the most important thing to remember is that you are creating a summary or paraphrase of what you hear, not a transcript. It won't be possible for you to capture every word, so you should focus instead on listening to what the stakeholder says and then rephrasing that in an abbreviated but accurate way. The goal should be to capture all the main points, especially as they relate to the question that was asked.

If you hear something that seems important to capture as a direct quote, you should indicate that within your notes by using quotation marks. This will serve to separate the exact language from the rest of your summary and paraphrase.

Once a response to a question has ended, you must be prepared to begin capturing the next question. This may be another item's core question, which will require that you navigate to that new item or a follow-up question for that same item. If it is another follow-up question, you should use the same double-spacing that you did for the question to separate the new question from the response. This will improve the readability of your notes.


Moving Between Items

Obviously, the ability to move from item to item within the SIG as the discussion evolves is critical for good note-takers. You must know the instrument from beginning to end in order to recognize which item is being addressed and then use the automated application's built in navigation tools to get to that item.

Sometimes, the interviewer will attempt to make this process easier for the note-takers by announcing when one item's questions are concluded and a new item's questions are about to begin. For example, he or she might state, "We were moving on to Item 27," and then give each note-taker a moment to get there.

Other times, though, the interviewer may not give clear instructions on what item is coming next. There may be little or no pause between items. This might be due to the interviewer forgetting to remind the note-takers of a topic change, or to the stakeholders shifting topics on their own so that the interviewer has to move onto a new line of follow-up questions. Also, depending on how the interview progresses, the interviewer may cover items out of the order they appear in the SIG, or may even return to items that he or she already addressed to ask additional follow-up questions. All of this can sometimes lead to note-takers becoming lost and unsure about which item the interviewer is currently asking questions.There are, however, strategies that can minimize the chances of this happening.

The first strategy is obvious: you must know the SIG thoroughly before the interview begins. By knowing the entire SIG, you will vastly increase your chances of keeping up with the interview if the interviewer jumps around in it.

Using Advanced Navigation instead of normal navigation is another tool that can help you. Advanced Navigation lets you move from item to item by simply clicking on boxes instead of trying to use the navigational arrows or directory view and can greatly streamline the process of getting around in the instrument.

Finally, remember that the Advanced Navigation’s hover tool can be tremendously helpful. If you hover the mouse over an item’s box, you will see a summary of that item’s topic. Use the hover tool continuously during the interview to preview the other items in the instrument. If you hear a question but are unsure into which item it fits, hover the mouse over the item boxes to find the best match.


Getting Lost

Despite your best efforts, at times you may find yourself lost in an interview. The discussion may have shifted topics quickly, or the interviewer may have forgotten to identify the current item, or you may have fallen behind while summarizing a lengthy stakeholder response. Regardless of the reason, you must be prepared to deal with getting lost when and if it occurs.

The most important thing in this situation is that you continue to take notes. Do not simply give up and stop recording what you hear. Many note-takers use item 46, which is for State-Specific Questions, to "dump" content when they're not exactly sure to which item it belongs. Later, when you are working on revising and clarifying your notes, you can cut and paste this "dumped" content into the appropriate item.

If you do not have time to get to item 46, simply continue to take notes in whatever item you are currently viewing. Separate the content that you know is off-topic from the rest of the content by creating a line of asterisks or some other marker to show that what follows is off-item and needs to be moved at a later point. As soon as you've regained your bearings and know which item the interviewer is addressing, navigate to that item and continue taking notes normally.

Remember, too, that note-takers may ask for clarification about which item is being discussed. Be sure, though, that you have clarified with the team leader before the interview begins how he or she would like for you to ask clarification questions.


Working With Groups

In many cases, it will be a group of stakeholders who are involved in a stakeholder interview rather than a single stakeholder. Situations like this still require that note-takers record questions and responses, but they become more complicated because there may be multiple responses, sometimes contradictory, that you will need to paraphrase and summarize for each question.

There are three key points to keep in mind when taking notes during a group interview:

Create a key. It’s important to have a quick and easy method to distinguish different speakers. While you won't be identifying anybody by name, and you won't always need to attribute specific comments to the individuals who said them, you will at times need to show that specific comments were made by different people. For example, if the interviewer asks each stakeholder for an example to illustrate a previous point, you will want to capture each of those examples separately. You may find it helpful at the beginning of the inteview to create a quick key or other guide, such as a grid, to help you quickly distinguish one stakeholder from another.

Observe the focus group’s dynamics. Think about how the various stakeholders relate to one another and take special note of places where there seem to be disagreements. If one person seems to be dominating the discussion, that’s worth capturing in your notes. Record your observations with your normal summary and paraphrase, but distinguish these notes from the rest by setting them off in parentheses or brackets.

Capture polling questions. These are questions that the interviewer uses to survey the entire group for a quick reply—for example, “Raise your hand if you agree with X.” As with any other follow-up question, you must capture the question as it’s asked, but you must also capture each individual’s reply.

Completing Stakeholder Interviews

As soon as possible after the interview, each note-taker should spend some time revising his or her notes for clarity in order to ensure that they are as clean, complete, and accurate as possible. Following this revision, the note-takers work together collaboratively to compile the final notes. These final notes, which are framed around the official note-taker's version, are what get uploaded to the central server at the end of the review week as the official record of the interview.

Revising for Clarity

As soon as possible after the interview, you should sit down with your notes and spend some time reviewing them for clarity. This “first pass” through your notes, which should happen before you begin to work with the other note-takers to compile the final SIG record, is designed to help you better understand the main points raised by the stakeholder and ensure that any mistakes or omissions that might have occured during the interview are corrected before you forget them. For this reason, you should try to revise your notes for clarity as soon as possible after each interview. If you wait until the end of the day, you are far more likely to forget the details of each individual interview.

If you are the official note-taker, there are a number of things that you should specifically consider while revising your notes:

Spell out abbreviations other than PUR for Period Under Review. This is particularly important for the official note-taker, since the official record that is uploaded to the central server cannot include any abbreviations other than PUR. But even if you are a supporting note-taker, you should take the time to ensure that any shorthand or spur-of-the-moment abbreviations you used in order to keep up with the interview are clarified, at least to the point that you will remember what they mean after some time has passed.

Insert spacing in your notes to separate questions from responses. When you are recording questions and responses during the interview, you should use spacing to separate each question from its response. This spacing helps make your notes easier to read and simplifies the process of moving content from one item to another (see below). If you missed some spacing during the actual interview, take the time to insert it as you review your notes for clarity.

Correct punctuation and other mechanical errors as necessary. As with spelling out abbreviations, this is especially important for the official note-taker. The final record should be as clean as possible when it is uploaded to the central server, and that includes correcting obvious spelling, punctuation, and grammatical mistakes. But even supporting note-takers will benefit from taking the time to correct glaring errors in their notes. Since these types of errors can cause confusion down the line, it is a good idea to correct the worst of them as soon as possible after the interview.

Cut and paste misplaced content into the correct item. Especially if a note-taker becomes lost during an interview, some content will likely be captured with the wrong item. Following the interview, this misplaced content must be moved into the correct part of the instrument. The automated application permits a simple cut-and-paste functionality between items; simply select the text you wish to move, right-click the mouse, and select "cut." Then, navigate to the correct item, right-click, and select "paste" to drop the content there. You can cut and paste as many times as you need to, from any item to another, but never cut and paste from an outside application (such as Word or Notepad) into the application.

Compiling Final Notes

Once you have finished note-taking during the interview and had the opportunity to revise your notes for clarity, it will be time to work with the other supporting note-takers and the official note-taker to compile the final version of the official SIG that is uploaded to the central server at the end of the review week. Since it is  likely that each note-taker involved in the interview ended with slightly different notes, this final collaborative step ensures that the final notes include all the relevant information that was shared by the stakeholder.

Remember that there can be only one version of the final, official SIG. Therefore, it is very important that any changes to the final record that take place during this process happen only to the official note-taker's notes. All of the supporting notes should have been clearly labeled as such when they were first created and should be kept separate from the final notes.

How this collaboration actually takes place will vary from site to site. In some cases, the official note-taker may print out a copy of his her notes for each of the supporting note-takers and have them edit the paper copy as necessary. The official note-taker would then use these edited copies to revise the official notes and meet with the interview team to review the revised record. Other times, the official note-taker may collect printed notes from each of the supporting note-takers and revise the official notes him or herself. Whatever the process that is used, the end result will be the same: one, final version of the official notes will be created, agreed upon as complete and accurate, and uploaded at the end of the review week as the final account of that stakeholder interview.