Asking Questions


This is an example of the kind of morning classroom group work we do in the Community House in Cam Thanh, Hoi An. Preparation for this activity includes reading some chapters on ethnographic research methodology.

As you’ll see, the orientation is to get you putting what you learnt in the reading, and what you might already know about interviewing, to immediate use. While we trial the methodology, making lots of mistakes (!), we are already gathering data that we may be able to use later.

As always in the field school, our approach is theoretical and practical at the same time.


Giang, Minh, David, Ashley and our research facilitators know a lot about Cẩm Thanh and the field sites you’re going to be studying. But we’re not going to lecture you about them! If you and your team want to find things out, you’re going to have to start acting as ethnographers right from the get go. You may of course talk to and interview us, but we want you to treat us as participants in your research rather than as fonts of ultimate knowledge. Approach discussions with us as ethnographic conversations or more formal interviews. Take notes. Be reflexive and critical about our subjectivities and how they shape our relation to and knowledge about the same fieldsites you are going to be studying yourselves. Include our thoughts in your presentations and reports, but in the same way you’d include those of other research participants such as farmers, government officials, street vendors or scrap pickers.

The Task

  • Interview one of the Vietnamese research facilitators or ANU staff about:
  • themselves and how/why they got involved with our field school
  • where they study and/or work (institutional context)
  • their relationship to Action for the City (if any)
  • their knowledge of Action’s projects, including the organic garden
  • what they understand about our field school and what they hope to get out of it
  • or pose another set of questions if you don’t find these useful


  • Take some time as a team to sit down and read through this activity description.
  • Then plan how you’re going to attack it:
  • Come up with an interviewing strategy, and make some rough notes.
  • Once you are agreed, decide who is going to ask which questions so that everyone has a chance.
  • Appoint a note-taker for today. She will write up her notes and share with the team this evening. For future activities, rotate this role so everyone shares the load.
  • Before you ask a question, you might like to introduce yourself to the interview participant, and answer some of the questions (briefly!) you plan to ask him or her.
  • Alternatively, ask her if there’s a question she’d like to pose to you straight up.
  • Or take another approach: the point is to create a sense of rapport and a fun and interesting exchange of information, experiences, hopes and perspectives.
  • Appoint a team member who will report back to the class on your experience of the interview. We’re a big group, so just a couple of highlights please.
  • Think about the fact that the “interviewee” is present with us. How do we include her without awkdwardness in this class discussion? Ask her to participate, e.g. to verify your understandings? Or talk more about your own, reflexive experience of the interview (e.g. what did you learn about yourself when asking the participant about herself?)

Interviewing Strategies

  • Reflect on the kind of interviewing you did and which questions were most useful
  • semi-structured
  • structured
  • unstructured
  • did your interviewing approach create a free-and-easy atmosphere?
  • did the participant feel able to interject and help guide/form the path of the invterview?
  • did you feel you were forming a rapport?
  • was there awkwardness? misunderstanding? why?
  • can we put this down to differences in: culture, generation, individual experience and difference?
  • did you experience an “interView?”
  • did interviewers/interviewees challenge or change their beliefs and understandings?
  • did the interviewees “counter-interview” you?
  • Now, reflect on the answers you got.
  • safisfying or unsatisfying?
  • coherent or contradictory?
  • forumulaic answers or personal/pragmatic responses?
  • How would you go about further exploring and verifying the information you just got?
  • How do the answers you got reflect the subjectivity of the person you interviewed?
  • How did your own subjectivity determine/shape the way you asked these questions and interpreted the answers?
  • How did you refine and re-pose the questions in response to your interviewee’s responses and reactions?
  • What did you learn from this exercise that might help you ask better questions in future?

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