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Experience interviews

Experience Interviews

Experience or empathy interviews are an inexpensive way to learn from people about their experience of a service or system.

On this page:

Why you should use it
What it involves
What you will get out of it
Ideal circumstances for use
References, guides and key readings

Why you should use it

Experience interviews enable you to:

  • understand how various factors (for example a person’s lifestyle, context, culture, life circumstances and deeper emotions) impact their experience and needs of policy
  • gain insight into people’s lives from their points of view and in their own language.

What it involves

  • Interviews can be used on anyone with an experience of a policy area, including frontline staff, volunteers and public sector workers, as well as members of the public.
  • Framework interviews – use a question sheet to guide the interview. The structure can help you focus on a particular area of research. They are basic and generate limited insight, but can be done quickly.
  • Semi-structured interviews – use a structure of prepared questions but be more open to conversation flow. This offers more depth and enables people to share their personal views more easily.
  • Observation interviewing – get a deeper understanding by spending time with someone as they go about their day. This requires some investment of time, such as spending several hours or a day with people.
  • Digital interviewing – use digital interviewing techniques like online forms or video chatting to ask people questions.

What you will get out of it

  • Greater clarity on the experiences of people.
  • Data that can help you create personas for role play and other policy methods.

Ideal circumstances for use

  • Your understanding of a problem and the needs of affected customers or citizens remain unclear
  • You wish to incorporate 'voices' of users in the design process (qualitative information to be used alongside quantitative data)


  • Interviews generate emotive, qualitative evidence, rather than statistically robust evidence.
  • The interpretation of interviews can easily be influenced by personal bias, but this can be minimised by asking open-ended rather than close-ended questions.
  • If you have a budget for using specialist ethnographic researchers, interviews may duplicate their work.
  • It can be challenging to manage interviewee expectations that their particular situations will be resolved.
  • In some cases, explicit permission may be necessary for ethical and privacy reasons.
  • Interviews can generate a lot of data that is not necessarily related to the original intent, which can be distracting or difficult to filter (for example it may be difficult to separate policy design issues from service design issues).

References, guides and key readings

What is an empathy interview? – A guide to thinking about the role and value of experience or empathy interviews.

Empathise with your users – Includes a section on interviews as part of a broader perspective on engaging with users.

How to develop an empathic approach – Behaviours and approaches for empathy, applicable to interviews.


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Last updated: 
Wednesday, 16 August 2017

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