There’s a fair bit of research around about questioning techniques and the usefulness of asking open ended questions. It doesn’t matter whether the interviewee is a complainant, witness, respondent or party to a dispute or conflict.
In the case of investigative interviewing, there’s evidence to show that the use of open questions is the best way to obtain the most reliable, unbiased and objective account… of whatever it is you’re asking the question about.
But what exactly is an open question? You may think you know, but it’s likely you don’t (or you’ll have difficulty when under time pressure). I often pose this of students; ask me an open question.. about anything.
Responses range from “What time did you get here today?” to “What drew your attention to the incident?” Not really open questions. What happens is that the interviewer commences to probe for information. This disrupts the flow, negates active listening and produces disjointed, incomplete information. And it does nothing to improve the interviewees’ memory.
One of the best ways to guide the elicitation of open narrative from an interviewee is to remember TED.
No, not Mark Wahlberg’s swearing, obnoxious sidekick teddy bear (although at least this will jog your memory).
TED is an acronym for tell, explain and describe.
Tell me about your day from the time you got to work until the incident?
Tell me more about why you think …
Tell me why you would say that?
Tell me the process that you undertook …
Explain more about how …
Explain to Judy the impact her actions had …
Describe, in as much detail as you can, everything you saw?
Describe more to me why/about/how …
Often, the use of the relevant probing questions can assist in formulating a great open narrative. The 5WH (yep, another acronym!) probing questions of who, what, where, when why and how can help.
In conjunction with good communication, rapport building, effective planning and use of investigative interviewing skills (read about that here), conducting interviews and obtaining the best information (or evidence) can be easier.
Just remember the teddy bear!