September 24, 2009

Some reflections on how to find interviewees for a research project

Talking to a good friend of mine, she asked me how I was able to find deportees to interview in Jamaica and Guatemala. I told her I found people through creatively thinking of contacts, persistence, charm, and some good luck.

It can be daunting to try and find people to interview for a specialized research project – where people need to fit a certain description. In my case, I need to find people who have lived in the United States, have been deported, and have been back in the home country for a reasonable amount of time.

My first step is that before traveling abroad, I made email contact with professors working on similar issues in the two countries. I had no direct contact with anyone in either Jamaica or Guatemala, so I had to email two people out of the blue. In my email, I mentioned their work that I had read, and expressed my interest in the topic of deportees. To my surprise, both of the people I emailed responded quite quickly and agreed to help me out once I arrived in their countries.

Before traveling, I emailed them and told them my goals for my visit. I mentioned that I was looking for a research assistant, and asked if they had any recommendations. In Jamaica, I met all of my research assistants this way – through contact with the professor I had met over email.

Once in Jamaica, I explained to my research assistant that I would pay her per interviewee she found for me. Through her, I was able to secure twenty interviews. However, I wanted to find interviewees through other sources to diversify my sample. I found five interviewees through another research assistant. The remainder, I found by asking around. I asked taxi drivers, musicians, people my husband met, and some of my interviewees, and was able to secure the remainder of my interviewees. I was in Jamaica for three months, and had to complete thirty interviews. So, I did whatever I could to meet my goal.

In Guatemala, I use a similar strategy, but have had to be more creative, as it is not as easy to find deportees. The professor I met put me in contact with a research assistant. It turned out he did not have many contacts with deportees, but he was able to put me in touch with another research assistant has more contacts. In addition, the professor put me in touch with a woman who works at the airport where deportees arrive. With her, I was able to meet planeloads of deportees on several occasions. In the airport, I asked deportees for their contact information, and told them I would contact them in a month to find out how they were doing. That strategy has also led to some interviews.

I am a bit behind schedule in Guatemala, so am implementing new strategies. I am asking people I meet if they know people who have been deported. I am encouraging my interviewees to tell people they know about the study. I put up a notice in a church, and have asked people to leave their contact information. And, I am always thinking of new ways to find deportees.

I have been in Guatemala for just over a month, and have completed eight interviews. If it looks like I will not be able to complete thirty before I leave, I will expand my sample. I will interview people who have been here for shorter periods of time. I will interview people who live outside of the capital. I will be sure that, when I leave Guatemala, I have completed thirty interviews.

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