3.2.3. Research and Interview Tools and Techniques

Primary Research Tools

This chart lists the four primary research tools including a brief description and the advantages and disadvantages of each tool.






One-on-one structured or semi-structured conversations with potential buyers or industry experts

  • Excellent for in-depth testing of research hypotheses and insights into the psyche of buyers
  • Access to qualitative data
  • Ability to explore and probe responses
  • Expensive and time consuming
  • Respondents may be reluctant to share personal beliefs and information
  • Possibility of interviewer bias
  • Rarely yields useful quantitative data

Focus Groups

Small, structured group meeting consisting of 5 to 20 participants from a target market segment or a cross-section of a value chain

Please see the Guide to Focus Group Discussions [1] for more information.

  • Ideal for ascertaining interest in abstract or new concepts
  • Excellent for pre-testing ideas
  • Generation of new research hypotheses
  • Exploration of new and unrelated topics as they arise
  • Small group bias
  • Trained moderators required.
  • Data not sufficient to make major decisions
  • Reluctance to share personal beliefs in group setting


Closed research instrument designed to test attitudes and perceptions on current product offerings or clearly defined future offerings. Can include quantitative and qualitative data

  • Quantitative data provides rigorous foundation for other qualitative methods
  • Data easy to tabulate and generalize from assuming high enough sample size
  • Depending on distribution channel, relatively inexpensive
  • Good for sensitive issues
  • Limited ability to probe responses, so questions need to be simple
  • Difficult and/or expensive to achieve statistical significance. This can be overcome with Internet/email distribution


In-store (or at the point of sale) observation of customers using or considering the purchase of a product

  • Inexpensive if observation is “blind”
  • Access to real life data
  • Difficult to ascertain motivations behind behavior

Read a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of four primary research tools (interviews, focus groups, surveys and observation). Other useful resources on techniques for data collection include the following:

  • The SEEP Network's Technical Note, "An Inventory of BDS Market Assessment Methods for Programs Targeting Microenterprises"[2]
  • The SEEP Network's "Building a Team for BDS Market Assessment and Key Issues to Consider When Starting BDS Market Assessment"[3]
  • The ILO's "Guide to Market Assessment for BDS Program Design"[4]


Interviews should be conducted according to a well planned travel schedule. The number of interviews should be in the range of 3-4 stakeholders from each functional level (i.e., input supplier, producer, trader, processor, wholesaler, retailer, exporter and importer) in addition to 2-3 individuals from key informants, agencies and supporting market participants.

Busy firm managers may be hesitant to take part in a survey, particularly if they have participated in numerous surveys in the past. It is important to state at the outset the approximate time the interview will take and to respect that timeframe. Below are additional guiding principles that interviewers should assess prior to initiating the interviews. Most guidelines are common sense items. It is the responsibility of team leaders to review these even with seasoned interviewers:

  • Honesty: Be totally honest about who you are, who you work for and the purpose of the interview. Start each interview with a clear explanation of the research purpose, using terms that are understandable and meaningful to the informant.
  • Deliberateness: Be deliberate about the way you speak to the informant. Never interrupt the informant. Speak clearly and establish a comfortable pace (which often means slowing down the way you would normally speak). Allow a space after the informant stops talking, in case he or she wants to elaborate. Never ask leading questions.
  • Launching point: Begin each interview by establishing a common frame of reference between you and the informant so that the informant understands what kinds of information interest you. A value chain map can be very helpful for this because it immediately communicates that you are interested in learning about the value chain. It also allows the informant to understand where you think he or she fits in, and to correct you if you are wrong.
  • Strategic ignorance: Make it very clear that you consider the informant to be the expert and that you consider yourself the learner. Conduct yourself as if you were the student of the informant, freely asking for clarification and examples.
  • Triangulation: Do not accept one informant’s opinion at face value. Gather the same type of information from other informants—who may have a different experience or interpretation—before reaching any firm conclusions. As a general rule of thumb, you should hear something similar from at least three distinct sources before you accept it as more or less accurate.
  • Privacy: Try to interview the informant where others can not listen in. Never share information about an informant’s business with other firm owners. Avoid bringing observers to an interview.
  • Expand the net: At the end of the interview, ask if the informant can recommend others to be interviewed, but do not force the issue if the interviewee shows hesitancy.

Interview Question Guides

Semi-structured interview question guides are important as they help the analysis team to remain focused on the objectives of the analysis and to use the interview time efficiently, while allowing interviewees the opportunity to address unforeseen issues. Question guides are designed to reveal information about buyers and sellers, how they interact with each other, how they find and learn from each other, the trust levels that exist among them, who determines the qualifications of the product, conditions that facilitate transactions, the provision and use of embedded services and the linkages that exist between firms from the same functional levels. Question guides can also integrate questions related to gender roles and dynamics in value chains, such as how behaviors related to upgrading are different among men and women.

Question guides need to help obtain chain participants’ perception of power dynamics and opportunities within the chain. The questions should be open-ended, allowing the informant to answer at their own pace, and preferably focused more on the positive aspects of the chain than on the problems. There are different methods to orient questions towards a positive tone rather than focusing on constraints, problems and why “things” do not work. One of these methods is referred to as appreciative inquiry. Nevertheless, questions developed must allow the informant to discuss chain-level constraints, bottlenecks or lack of incentives that prevent upgrading.


  1. Guide to Focus Group Discussions
  2. SEEP Network's Technical Note on market assessment methods
  3. http://www.seepnetwork.org/content/library/detail/553
  4.  http://www.bdsknowledge.org/dyn/bds/docs/377/Guide%20to%20BDS%20MA%20for%20Program%20Design%20Miehlbradt.pdf