expert interviews

“The expert interview is often considered a simple research method”

In conversation with Frank Wernitz, Professor of General Business Administration at the IUBH, about his recent publication on expert interviews in the context of the IUBH Discussion Papers and the impact of the new Data Protection Regulation on research.


What significance do expert interviews have for scientific research?

They’re very important. That’s true even though quantitative data collection methods have become more prevalent than qualitative ones. The advantage here is also obvious: If you create a questionnaire for a survey in which the respondents simply tick the answers that apply to them, the data can later be statistically evaluated and compared better. But in many cases the situation is not quite so clear. That’s when qualitative methodology, such as an expert interview, can be the right choice. For example, if there is no theory that can be reflected easily in a “survey” and you want details about specific topics.

Why is they used so often and what alternatives are there?

On the one hand they are used because, depending on the question and the state of theoretical knowledge, there may not be a sensible methodological alternative. In my opinion, another reason plays a major role in connection with examinations: The expert interview is often likely to be the answer because it is considered to be a supposedly simple methodology. However, this underestimates the rather high effort that must be expended to actually conduct the interviews. In addition to a proper preparation including an interview guide, the transcription of the interview in text form, as well as the evaluation of the interview, come prior to the exploitation of the interview in an examination paper. Overall, the effort is far greater than most think.
The possible alternatives available depend on the state of research and the research question of a study. In many cases it may even be appropriate to combine different methods.

Why is it important to work with a guide during an expert interview?

There are interview forms that work without a guide. This is always the case when you want the interviewee to disclose their own associations, opinions and thoughts to a high degree without this flow of thought being “distorted” by the interviewer. In the field of economics, however, this approach is less common. The goal here is usually to find certain regularities in a number of individual cases and not so much to examine the specific individual case in all its facets.

What effect does the new General Data Protection Regulation have on scientific research using expert interviews?

I don’t know of any literature currently on this topic, which is very important in practical terms. Essentially, the GDPR is concerned with information and documentation obligations. So the data arising from an expert interview must also be collected and processed in a corresponding manner. Art. 5 (2) 2 GDPR creates new accountability for the responsible researchers, namely that they must be able to prove at any time that the data protection requirements are actually met. This goes further than the old provisions in the Federal Data Protection Act and in many cases requires a revision of the documentation or its re-creation. In addition, however, it must also be clarified how to proceed with the data after the analysis, which is usually stored on the researcher’s computer.
I’m not a lawyer myself and therefore have to be very careful about making decisive statements about correct compliance with the GDPR. But I find the topic very interesting and of course highly relevant to practice, so I would like to continue working on it, preferably together with a trained commercial lawyer. Maybe there will be an IUBH cooperation partner who would like to support me here.


Frank Wernitz has been Professor of General Business Administration at the IUBH dual study programme in Düsseldorf since April 2016. In his free time he likes to play guitar or go diving.

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