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25. Cognitive Interviewing v1

25. Cognitive Interviewing v1

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Published by SRED Unlimited
Bruce Madole, CMC, examines whether a breakthrough interviewing technique could help you with SR&ED.
Bruce Madole, CMC, examines whether a breakthrough interviewing technique could help you with SR&ED.

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Published by: SRED Unlimited on Jan 24, 2011
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01/24/2011

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Copyright 2010 – Bruce Madole, CMC

Cognitive Interviewing

Cognitive Interviewing – are the advantages transferable to SR&ED? My topic for today is: can the use of improved interviewing techniques, such as cognitive interviewing, yield better and more accurate information when transferred to the field of SR&ED? The technique known as cognitive interviewing was first developed, by psychology professors (Fisher, Gieselman, Amador - 1989), to help the police conduct more effective and accurate interviews with witnesses to a crime. It produces dramatically improved results (up to 75% more accurate) at eliciting the details of what happened, or what a witness remembers about those details. The primary developer of the technique, Ron Fisher, Ph.D., subsequently went on to apply the same interviewing technique to the world of aviation safety and crash investigations, so I will take it as already proven that the interviewing techniques are transferable across disciplines. But can the techniques be applied to SR&ED? I’ll confess that I am just getting started with my own investigation of this topic, but here are some lessons I’ve learned so far: Asking open-ended questions: One of the earliest keys to a successful interview seems to be the need to establish a rapport with the person being interviewed. There are always other things that the subject could be doing, and often, would prefer to be doing. Explaining briefly what we are seeking, and why, provides a sense of context for the interview request, which can be reiterated in the face to face discussion. To get the

This document is the property of Bruce Madole, CMC, and is used by permission. All rights are reserved. The opinions expressed herein are personal, created for entertainment and information purposes, and are not intended to be relied on in place of professional counsel or advice. No part of this document may be re-used, transmitted or re-transmitted without the express prior written consent of the author, who can be contacted at: brucemadole@sympatico.ca

Copyright 2010 – Bruce Madole, CMC

Cognitive Interviewing

information flowing, we should ask open-ended questions, like “Tell me what happened with this project?” Interrupt less, listen more: It’s common enough for us, as SR&ED practitioners, to try to zero in on the key SR&ED criteria – advancements, uncertainties, work performed – and too often, we will jump in to “refocus” (interrupt) a subject matter expert (SME) when their narrative about the project work seems to be predominantly a tale about the progression of a business project. We ask them to tell us what happened, and then we choke them off when they start to use the language of business instead of technology. The problem with interrupting is that it antagonizes the SME and makes them increasingly disengaged with the process of remembering (on our behalf) what happened. It may be less efficient, in some senses, but we need to let the “witnesses” unfold the tale at their own pace, as they remember it. It’s like peeling an onion – the real grief is in the layers underneath. We’ll get to the technical details by circling back once the whole fabric of the narrative has been understood, from the perspective of the one telling the story. Leverage details the subject cares about. Use the narrative framework to help the SME remember details. If we are patient about going through what happened, and when, then the details will come, and details trigger further details. People focus on details that matter to them – but not always the details that matter to us. However, it is important, if we are interviewing a technical expert, to understand why a technical detail matters to them. This is the measure of its significance.

This document is the property of Bruce Madole, CMC, and is used by permission. All rights are reserved. The opinions expressed herein are personal, created for entertainment and information purposes, and are not intended to be relied on in place of professional counsel or advice. No part of this document may be re-used, transmitted or re-transmitted without the express prior written consent of the author, who can be contacted at: brucemadole@sympatico.ca

Copyright 2010 – Bruce Madole, CMC

Cognitive Interviewing

We should ensure that we are trying to understand the importance and substance of the story that the SME is trying to tell us. If they do not possess all of the facts we seek, we can at least ensure that we have fully understood and engaged with the person who is trying to help us right now… without trying to rewrite the story into some preconceived narrative more typical of our own experience. An interview with Ron Fisher, Ph.D. (the founder of cognitive interviewing) contained the observation that domain knowledge and subject matter expertise are not always the ultimate requirement for an interviewer – effective listening, interviewing and communication skills may play a vital part in the best and most effective interviews. Experts, as interviewers, may become pre-occupied with their own expertise, focusing on extracting information from a witness, where the interviewer feels that he or she possesses the same or even greater knowledge than the witness SME. Interruptions, leading questions, or even an un-empathetic or dismissive interviewing style may creep in to derail the “interview relationship”. Then the interview itself may break down to the point where the interviewer ends up effectively “telling” their interview subject what happened in their own project, and projecting their own experience onto the actual events. Does the possession of specific domain knowledge have to result in an “interventionist” and less effective interview? Of course not. And to be fair, there would be those who could argue that re-framing and intervening in the interview process merely prevents the waste of a whole lot of interviewing time, with more satisfactory results all around. However, if we have “set the context and framed the expectations” at the very

This document is the property of Bruce Madole, CMC, and is used by permission. All rights are reserved. The opinions expressed herein are personal, created for entertainment and information purposes, and are not intended to be relied on in place of professional counsel or advice. No part of this document may be re-used, transmitted or re-transmitted without the express prior written consent of the author, who can be contacted at: brucemadole@sympatico.ca

Copyright 2010 – Bruce Madole, CMC

Cognitive Interviewing

beginning of the interview, then perhaps we need to develop our own trust in the flow of things, as well as improved techniques for ensuring that effective dynamic is preserved during the interview itself, and for framing and redirecting in ways that are less “interruptive” and more circular and cooperative. If there is anything that can make me better at what I do, I’m all in favour of it.

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This document is the property of Bruce Madole, CMC, and is used by permission. All rights are reserved. The opinions expressed herein are personal, created for entertainment and information purposes, and are not intended to be relied on in place of professional counsel or advice. No part of this document may be re-used, transmitted or re-transmitted without the express prior written consent of the author, who can be contacted at: brucemadole@sympatico.ca

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