Community interview

Situation analysis

Community interview


Community interviews are an important method of initiation, of addressing and involving the population. Although conducted one-on-one, the term ‘community’ is used because the subject of these interviews is the local atmosphere, the connection between individuals and the community, the content of local identity, development plans and the capacity to act.

Purpose of activity

The community interview is mainly meant to mobilize the individual to participate actively in the life of the community and the local society.
Key terms

community interview; content of local identity; community development plans; capacity to act

    • personal: community developer, community cultural organizer, local community volunteers
    • material: meeting/resting rooms for people conducting the interviews, computer capacity, note paper and pens, printer, A4 sheets
    • financial: room rental fee (if needed)

Applied tools and methods

Interviews can be conducted not only by the community developer, but also by the ‘core staff’, an interested and involved group of volunteers from the population selected during the first round of interviews with the assumption that they will take the initiative. This is only partly because it would not possible to cope with the number of interviews otherwise, another reason is that community development should aim at applying community working methods from the very start. At this stage the community developer shall prepare this ‘core staff’ for the function and methodology of initiating and conducting interviews.

The first step in contact building is to find the individuals that the heads of the local community that they know consider to be significant local personalities and opinion leaders. The community developer requests their participation in a conversation, a so-called interview, after explaining its purpose and gaining their consent. At the end of the first interview the initiator finds out who else in the community should be contacted for an interview. This way locals will suggest more initiators, while building a community network. This local network will gradually lead to a ‘wider circle’, which will play a decisive role later in the community discussions and surveys, when further activists will be added to their numbers.

The interview will them encourage to answer three basic questions:

  • What does it mean for you to live here? (What is good about living here? What is not?)
  • What would you change and how?
  • How could you contribute to these changes?

Our basic attitude is supportive listening and empathy. We will have to make sure to put our partner at ease during the interview, and so giving positive feedback is acceptable. In case our partner tries to establish a balance in communication by asking questions about us, we may offer as much relevant information as seems necessary. We should not try to appear different from what we are, as this would destroy our credibility.

We should try not to pry ‘everything’ out of our interviewee. Quite the contrary: we should concentrate on finding out about their relation to the community, and should not let them get distracted by talking about relationship problems. The interview is successful if the interviewee feels good afterwards and does not regret revealing information about themselves to a stranger or wonder what the interviewer wanted and how the information will be used.

At the end we may offer an opportunity for another discussion, this time in a community form (please see methodology separately below), to which we invite each interviewee. We need to explain that a community action is being launched, whose content and methods will be designed and implemented by the community members with the help of professionals, and that we find their personal involvement in the process very important. It is useful to set a time and place for this community discussion before we say goodbye.

It goes without saying that we may not divulge personal information to locals about each other after the interview. A dictaphone or a notebook are the easiest ways of recording the interview, but if these make our interviewee uncomfortable, we may do without them and take notes afterwards. The personal content of an interview should never be published, but information relevant to the project may be included later in a project summary or in an application to a tender. It is quite likely that we get to meet special personalities, representing community norms or possessing rare (local) knowledge. They may be asked to take part in an interview, or series of interviews, to talk about their life, crafts and skills, and local traditions. This local knowledge, however, is not to be recorded for a local history collection, but rather to be returned to the community where it originates from, strengthened by local publicity (filmed portraits, poetry collections, articles in the local press, yearbooks and presentation in school classes, etc.). The interviews will thus become positive sources of community identity.

Local volunteers may summarise and classify the interviews with the help of the community developer. As the content of the local identity is taking shape, a list of values and problems is drafted and we get an idea of the local community’s level of activity and range of skills (i.e. how they can contribute to development by the community).
With an appropriate number of interviews, the developer and the extended core will have information about the issues that are on local people’s minds. At this point they are still unable to prioritise the problems – nor are they supposed to, as it is the community’s task – and they are also unable to see the main directions of community activities. These will unfold during the public community discussions (see there).

Results, expected outcome

  • The ‘core staff’, the group of local initiators will take shape,
  • the selection of volunteers, the ‘wider circle’, begins as well, and the first network initiative emerges,
  • local volunteers are enabled to conduct community interviews,
  • an initial idea is beginning to form about the content of local identity, local development plans and resources, and the motivation of the interviewees.


Varga, A. T. – Vercseg, I.: Közösségfejlesztés. [Community Development] 1998 and 2002, Budapest, Hungarian Institute for Culture.
Vercseg, I.: Közösségfejlesztő leckék kezdőknek és haladóknak. [Community building for beginners and professionals]. Parola booklets. 2004, Budapest, Hungarian Association for Community Development.

This article based on the following document: Community development methodological guide