This checklist is based on Reporting Diversity Manual – it could help you to make contact with members of minority community, but can be used for other social groups as well.
Your interviewee will be more comfortable if you have been introduced by somebody they trust. You may even want this person to be present for the whole interview.
They may not be able to communicate their story so effectively if they have to use English or another second language. You may need to use a translator.
You may like to use a consent form of some kind to explain this and record their agreement.
If you have recognized your own prejudices, you can prevent them from influencing how you carry out the interview or write the story. For example, you may unconsciously make assumptions about someone’s viewpoint; you should make sure your story is based on what they tell you, rather than on such assumptions.
You may need to understand local names for the group and its customs; perhaps they prefer to refer to themselves by a different name than that used by the majority community. You might also need to be familiar with local or national policies and institutions which feature in their story.
Try to interview more than one person from the community if you can. Otherwise, your audience may make assumptions about a whole group of people based on your interview with one person.
They may wish to be kept anonymous, or for you to use only their first name. They may prefer you not to mention where they live or other personal details. They may refuse to be photographed. Accept their requests and honour them. Such requests may be because of a lack of confidence, or they may be necessary to ensure your interviewee’s safety.
If you can meet people in their own environment (for example, their home or work), they will feel more relaxed, and may reveal more than they would in an unfamiliar setting. It may also help you to understand their perspective better.
You will need to be sensitive and find a way to put them at their ease. For example, you could do some ‘small talk’ about the location or the weather, before carrying out an interview.
Consider any constraints which make it hard for them to come to you – for example, they may have a disability which makes it hard to travel; they may be a single parent and unable to leave their children alone at home.
Meeting you may put your interviewee at risk of being judged or even attacked, by their own community or others. Make sure you arrange a meeting place which is private and confidential if necessary.
Learn in advance about their cultural norms. You may need to pay attention to details such as how you sit, your body language, and the clothes you wear (you should consider any modesty codes within their culture, and perhaps avoid wearing expensive clothes which might be intimidating to some groups).
For example, you might need to be aware of what role women play in families and the wider community, or of cultural practices like female genital mutilation. These might be issues you want to explore, or you might want to steer clear of certain areas.
Think in advance about these topics and do any research needed.
For example, if they come from a nomadic pastoralist community, do you know what that means in practice? If you are unsure, you should research or ask them to explain, rather than making your own assumptions.
Make sure you have enough time for them to speak at length if they need to. If, for example, they seem to be digressing, you should allow them to continue – you may find that the most important and unexpected details are revealed in this way.
If your subject reveals a new perspective on the story which you weren’t aware of, you should be able to explore that further, rather than sticking to your own scripted questions.
Remember that your subject understands their own situation much better than you do. He or she is an expert on their own life.
This can be one of the best ways of finding new sources for your work.
The Reporting Diversity Manual by David Tuller (Media Diversity Institute, 2002) is a valuable resource for anyone covering these issues.