The steps that need to be executed in order to conduct semi-structured interviews are the following:

prepare the interview

  1. Get familiar with the ODK procedure, techniques and tools. The team members must become acquainted with the flow and structure of the interview. By being familiar to the themes and questions it is easier to switch between them, offering flexibility which improves the building of dialogue. Roleplay the interview in the team, pilot the interview and read the full manual to get the most out of the interviews.

  2. Include general product questions in the ODK. During the ODK interviews, ‘generic’ product questions can be posed. Product questions can be added when certain themes are discussed that are obviously related to the product or service to be developed. For example, when a solar charging station for mobile phones needs to be developed, questions about mobile phones (‘Products’), connectivity (‘Mobility’, ‘Significant Relationships’, ‘Family’ or ‘Services’) and energy  (‘Services’) can be posed. More specific questions, for example about aesthetic preferences for the charging station, are not adequate to pose during the ODK interviews, they will make the interview too long and focused on the product, while it is meant for a comprehensive insight.

  3. Localize the content and conduct a local pilot. Locally discuss the ODK contents beforehand. As accents, words, expressions, dialects and pronunciations might be different and words might mean different things in different regions, it is important to make sure the translator and the participant have the same understanding of the themes and questions. To adjust wordings to local dialects and to point out sensitivities it is important to discuss the themes and topics with people familiar to the potential users and their context. To improve participants’ understanding of the themes and build relationship, the pictographs can best be replaced by local visualizations. Be careful to select visualisations to which the participant can relate, but which do not steer the participant into a certain direction. Adjusting the ODK to the local context results in better dialogue and better outcomes. After adjusting the ODKs contents, a local pilot should be executed in the field. By conducting a pilot in the field, the designer becomes familiar to the ODK content and procedure. Moreover, sensitivities and terminology become even more clear. Especially when using a translator it is relevant to conduct the pilot locally, as in this way the translator also becomes familiar to the ODK content and procedure. Tips & tricks for contextualizing visualizations are provided in the manual.

  4. Carefully select and instruct a translator (if required). Follow the tips & tricks in the manual. The translator should be thoroughly informed about the task at hand and his or her role. Share the goals of the research and explain the rules. If step 5 (conduct a local pilot) is not feasible: go through all the themes and questions before the first interview to get the translator acquainted with the interview flow and structure, the themes and key questions. It is best to use one and the same translator for every interview, as this reduces training and interview time. Moreover, when the translator is familiar to the participants, but does not have a stake in the interview, it is easier for participants to open up.

  5. Select participants. A local partner, translators or other participants can aid in selecting participants. However, the selection criteria should be followed. As stated in prerequisite H, a variety of participants should be selected, also outside the potential user group.


conducting the interview

  1. .Assign roles. Conduct the interview with at least two (a facilitator and a note taker / photographer) and a maximum of three designers and assign roles beforehand to clarify the purpose for each researcher. Appoint a facilitator who resembles the participant most (e.g., in gender, age social class, religion and ethnicity), when possible.

  2. Decide on time and place. Time and place of the interview should be at convenience of the participants and preferably in their local context. Try to prevent to conduct interviews with participants who are busy and distracted (e.g. because of work, time limitations), and interviews that suffer from interruption by audience. Try to not bring employees from the client organization, as they have a stake in the research outcomes and might influence the participant’s answering. Make sure there is sufficient space to use the ODK techniques and tools.

  3. Bring along the required supplies. The materials for the activities, recording devices, a notebook and pen should be brought along to the interview. Consider to bring along pictures of yourself and your surroundings and food for the participant as well.

  4. Introduce & ask for consent. Introduce the research, the interview, the translator and yourselves. Be honest and explain the research goals and why comprehensive user insight is required to be able to develop a product and / or service that suits the people’s needs and wants. Explain that they are the experts and that the interview is to learn from them. Giving your introduction in the local language helps to build rapport and to establish a more relaxed atmosphere. Participants should be informed about the research and its goals and about the activity. Ask for consent to record the interview, to take pictures and to use the data. Stress that participants are not obliged to participate and can withdraw from the activity at any time. Clarify how much time the interview will approximately take, based on the local pilot. It is very important to be clear about compensation to set the right expectations for participants. Communicate openness and being non-threatening, stress that there are no wrong answers and that not all questions have to be answered. Explain the participant that he or she is free to leave. Make the participants feel relevant as participants by sharing yourself, verbally or with help from pictures.

  5. Ask for the participant’s introduction. Asking participants to tell something about themselves provides an easy start and shows interest. Learn participants’ names, age, place of residence, job and religion and note this down, in order to acknowledge the participant and make him or her feel relevant.

  6. Conduct a touchstone tour. Let the participant show you around in their house or the environment where the interview is conducted. Use the show me technique: let the participants show you objects, spaces and tools. Conducting a touchstone tour results in better outcomes, as the observations made can be used to establish dialogue and to cross-check the information that participants share.

  7. Sit down and…When multiple team members are present, try to not sit together and do not discuss things in your mother tongue. Also try to limit discussions in English with the translator. The participant should be the one talking.For the facilitator: …build dialogue.

  • Start with personal details. Ask the participant’s name, age, place of residence and religion. Share pictures that you brought from your home country. Look at the tips & tricks for appropriate behaviour and attitude to help you to build a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.

  • Continue with the timeline. Ask what the participants do during a day. The timeline can be combined with the visualization cards and erasable markers to create an overview of their day. Try to let participants create, if they are unwilling let the note taker create.

  • Continue with the question cards. Use the drawing sheet, the visualization cards and the erasable markers to visualize the answers. Start with the current situation for one theme and from that point ask about changes in the past and aspirations for the future, before continuing to the next theme. When discussing a theme, explain what the pictograph/local visualization is about. Again, try to let participants create, if they are unwilling let the note taker create. There is no indicated order for discussing the themes, but start with an ‘easy’ theme or topic and also end with an ‘easy’ theme or topic (which themes are ‘easy’ can be found out by discussing the themes with a local partner and / or conducting a local pilot). The questions for each theme are mere options for starting conversations than exact questions that need to be asked. However, the questions should be kept general enough to stimulate conversation, and focused enough to reveal the desired information. Questions can be left out and for each theme it is also important to ask questions in different ways, to pose questions about topics and experiences that come up during the conversation. Pose follow-up questions to follow-up on the unexpected, and on topics that the participant finds interesting. When participants have difficulty opening up, fall back to ‘easy’ topics or use drawings to elicit more response. When certain topics are clearly sensitive or close down the participant, switch topic. Any question affecting the dignity of participants must not be pursued. It is important to consider and respect people’s privacy, and their personal space. If participants do not allow the designers to enter that personal space, that should be respected.

  • Conclude the conversation with the sorting exercise. Use the sorting cards and let participants place these cards on the ranking sheet, based on their importance: not important (.), less important (!), important (!!) or very important (!!!). For each sorting card, explain what the pictograph/local visualization means. The ranking exercise works as a confirmation of the things being told during the interview and provides insight in what and how participants value.

    • For the note-taker: …document. Let the interview preferably be recorded by a recording device (but be aware of the possible effects of recording devices: participants becoming shy or holding back) and take notes to document anything surprising and participants’ behaviour, attitude, body language and interpretations. The note-taker can also draw, and capture photographs and video. Look at the tips & tricks about ‘what to pay attention to’.Thank the participant. Thank participants for their invested time and effort and for sharing personal information. Bring a small gift, food and / or money to show appreciation and compensate for time and costs (see ODK guideline C).

Analyse, interpret, discuss and reflect immediately. Analyse and interpret the data after each interview and discuss the interview outcomes, the most striking insights and perceptions with the design team directly after each interview, before things become ‘normal’. This aids to verify insights and detect design opportunities. The insights can also be discussed with the translator and the local partner(s). Reflect on the insights (see prerequisite N) with the full team and use the outcomes during the following interviews.




When using the ODK, all fourteen steps should be followed and step five to thirteen should be repeated for each interview