The Human Element of Investigations: (2) Conducting Interviews

This workshop is part of a four-module training plan addressing "the human element of investigations", namely the interaction between investigators / researchers and people who may become their sources of information. It follows the workshop on “The Human Element: Identifying and Reaching Out to Sources Safely” (which should come first for beginners). This second workshop provides participants with techniques, skills and best practices to safely interview and maintain contact with human sources providing evidence during investigations.

Workshop Overview

Topic: The human element of investigations: how to conduct interviews safely.


  • This workshop provides the techniques, skills, and best practices participants need in order to safely identify, interview, and maintain contact with people during investigations, to gather and strengthen evidence.

Learning outcomes:

  • Understand that different types of interviews and interviewees require different approaches.
  • Formulate the different types of interview questions, elaborate a questionnaire.
  • Conduct an interview.

Mode of delivery: online / in-person workshops

Workshop duration (without breaks): 2 hours 10 minutes

Number of participants: 6 to 24

Related workshops:

Related Exposing the Invisible: The Kit guides: 

Workshop preparation materials, to download:

Learning Activities

Opening (15 minutes)

Skip the trainer and participants introductions in this Opening if you are conducting this session with the same group after the Introductory one on “The Human Element of Investigations: Identifying and Reaching Out to Sources and Interviewees Safely”. Instead, you can run an energiser activity or provide a summary of the previous session / workshop.

Workshop introduction

Read Watch Listen | 5 minutes


  • Grab attention by posing a question or commenting on a relevant picture.
  • Introduce yourself and the goals of the workshop.
  • Optional: introduce the source of the workshop material (Tactical Tech)
  • Inform participants of the workshop agenda.
  • Suggest ground rules for the workshop. Ask participants whether they would like to modify your suggestions or suggest other rules. Ensure that everybody understands and agrees with the ground rules. Specific suggestions about setting ground rules are available in the Facilitator Guide: section on "Delivering the Workshops".
  • Establish the dynamics for group work, explain if participants will need to work in the same teams during the interactive workshop activities.
Participants’ introductions / Icebreaker

Produce | 10 minutes


  • Facilitate a quick round of participants’ introductions by asking them to answer a couple of questions (communicate something) about themselves, their work, their workshop expectations.

  • Alternatively, you can pick an icebreaker exercise that encourages participants to get creative by drawing answers or ideas on an online whiteboard or, if off-line, stand up and perform some tasks or discuss in groups:

    • e.g. interview a fellow participant for 2 minutes to learn more about their work or their place of origin, etc.,
    • check the “Icebreakers” section in the ETI Facilitator’s Guide for inspiration.

Planning and Conducting Interviews (1 hour and 45 minutes)

Introduction: Planning for interviews

Read Watch Listen | 5 minutes

Tools / Materials


Prepare and make a brief presentation focusing on the following ideas:

  • Now that you are ready for your interview, you need to work on the logistics such as:

    • meeting venues
    • recording tools
    • travel and accommodation
    • local contacts for support and safety
    • context awareness / research
    • safe communication with sources, etc.
  • Acknowledge again the need for planning ahead and recommend to follow the research cycle to address and mitigate potential risks at every step: before, during and after the interviews.

    • Do not hesitate to reiterate this as often as possible.
  • Invite participants to contribute / ask / discuss aspects related to their own needs

Planning for interviews

Collaborate | 35 minutes

Tools / Materials

  • “Activity Templates – The Human Element: Conducting interviews”, section “Group Activity: Planning for Interviews” (copies to fill out online or printed)
  • A slide / flip-chart paper with group task guidelines and key points to remember
  • Shared cloud folder and files / text edit platform (e.g. Framapad) for listing observations / alternatively, shared online whiteboards such as Miro or Mural (if online.)
  • Individual sheets of paper, sticky notes / post-its, pens (if offline.)


[15 minutes] Group task

  • Divide participants into groups of 3-5 members.

  • Ask teams to assign a note-taker, time-keeper and presenter for the debriefing part (valid for each activity from here on); these roles should switch at times.

  • Inform them that they will need to plan an interview with a chosen character.

  • Ask them to pick one character to interview / or assign them a character yourself (e.g. witness, victim, suspected perpetrator, expert source, official representative…) and to write down:

    • 1. the role they play in the investigation
    • 2. their relationship with the investigation
    • 3. the information they can provide.
  • Provide groups with guiding questions to work on, such as:

    • How will you interview them?
    • Where will you arrange the meeting?
    • What other aspects should you consider before and during the meeting / interview?

If conducting this workshop as a follow-up to “The Human Element: Identifying and Reaching Out to Sources Safely” one:

  • you can either keep the same groups as before or form new ones and maintain them across this workshop;
  • groups can keep their previous use cases and choose interviewees and activities related to them, to save time.

[20 minutes] Debriefing

  • Ask each group to present their plan in 2 minutes, while providing reasons for their decisions.

  • Comment and provide feedback to each team and ask other participants to share questions / suggestions.

  • Following group presentations, facilitate a brief discussion on the pros and cons of different types of interviews:

    • Face-to-face
    • Video call
    • Email

For the group activity, you can also prepare character cards in advance and assign the cards to each group to save time.

Preparing questions and an interview plan

Produce | 20 minutes

Tools / Materials


  • Ask participants to return to their groups.

  • Each group should:

    • prepare a questionnaire for their interviewee (from the previous activity) and
    • order the questions
    • explain what their goals are and how they will try to achieve them.
  • Guide participants towards essential goals such as:

    • Breaking the ice
    • Provoking a reaction
    • Gathering background for a story
    • Fact-checking other evidence or information of alternate sources
    • Gathering evidence
    • Getting testimony and/or the human side of the story, etc..
  • Remind teams to assign a note-taker, time-keeper and volunteer(s) for the follow-up activity of the role-play (see next section).

Role-play: asking questions

Collaborate | 20 minutes

NOTE: the time for this activity will have to be adapted depending on the number of groups.

Tools / Materials

  • Materials and groups’ notes from previous activity
  • A slide / flip-chart paper for wring down key points to remember after role-play.


[20 minutes] Role-play

  • Following up on the previous activity, each groups tests its designed interview by performing a role play.

  • A volunteer from another group is invited to play the role of the interviewee.

  • Give each group 5 minutes to run their interview while others observe and take notes for later feedback.

  • When all the groups have finished, invite everyone to share their thoughts and remarks.

[10 minutes] Debriefing and Summary

  • After going through the role plays of all groups, make remarks about the types of questions and goals, why they work or don’t, and what they are useful for.

  • Keep the conversation focused on DO’s and DON’Ts, i.e.:

    • Do ask general questions to break ice
    • Don’t ask leading questions that could influence what interviewees may answer
    • Don’t ask closed questions if your purpose is to gather background details
  • Write down essential advice / tips and connect them with relevant questions to highlight the different types of questions:

    • Open vs. closed
    • Factual and open-ended
    • Leading questions
    • Follow up
    • Provocative
  • Highlight that vulnerable or adversarial sources require special approaches.

    • Mention some of the special approaches and how they differ.
    • Give examples and tips.


Keeping a record of the interviews. Legal considerations

Read Watch Listen | 10 minutes

Tools / Materials

  • Slides / flip-chart papers for presentation, prepared in advance.


  • Prepare and give a short presentation highlighting the importance of risk assessment in terms of communication, venues, storage of evidence and data, and personal protection:

    • Time and place of interviews
    • Considerations related to digital and physical safety
    • Travel
    • Interviews requiring special approaches (vulnerable or adversarial sources / interviewees) can be addressed separately. If not addressed in a separate section, mention how they require special planning.
  • Ask participants if they thought of how and where they will collect and/or keep records of the information or evidence:

    • Will they be recording, taking photos, videos, etc.?
  • Remind them about tools to document the interviews as this will help them think about solutions for storage:

    • Audio recording
    • Video calls and phone recording
    • Photo/video
    • Safe storage
  • Bring their attention to the importance of:

    • Informed consent to be obtained from interviewees with a "consent form": signed forms that detail how information and identity will be used or kept confidential.
    • Legal concerns
    • Security
    • Privacy
  • Discuss and provide tips on:

    • How will you identify or credit the source of the information in your investigation?
    • Will you reveal their identities?
    • Do they need to remain confidential? How does source confidentiality impact the trustworthiness of your published report?
  • Define key terms and practices of:

    • On the record
    • Off the record
    • Anonymity


After the interview: check-ins and balances

Discuss | 15 minutes

Tools / Materials

  • Slides / flip-chart papers for presentation, prepared in advance.
  • Shared whiteboard such as Miro or Mural / cloud-based text editing platform (e.g. Framapad (if online.)
  • Flip-chart paper / whiteboard and pens (if offline)


  • Ask participants to take 2 minutes to write individually on a shared board their thoughts on the following question:

    • What do you do when interviews are over?
  • Following this individual exercise, bring key points to their attention, if not mentioned:

    • Fact-checking information obtained in interviews.
    • Research cycle: asses needs and think your investigation over.
    • Give the right of response.
    • Check you have permissions and how the source will be named (if they are named) when you reveal or publish your investigation.
    • Stay in touch: current interviewees can be a starting point to building your own agenda of sources and develop further investigations.
  • Risk assessment: communications, storage, publication, sharing with others, collaborating.

  • Encourage participants to ask themselves questions like:

    • Did you consider how long the interview would last?

      • Was it too long and/or did the source grow tired?
      • Mention specifications about time and the value to your source’s time.
    • Were you in the right mindset through self-care and self-awareness?
    • Did you make any mistakes when approaching your source? (cultural, gender, other)
  • Emphasize the importance of learning / accepting to give up:

    • Some sources will not be helpful or useful despite your plan
    • It is ok to let them go even during the interview if you believe you did your best but the source did not meet expectations.


Closure (10 minutes)

Wrap-up Activity: Takeaway Poster

Produce | 5 minutes


  • Shared drawing pad / slide / whiteboard (online)
  • Whiteboard / flip-chart paper, post-its, markers (offline)


  • Ask participants to create a takeaway poster by sharing their answers to the following question in the shared whiteboard / drawing board:

    • What are your main takeaways from today's workshop?
  • Give participants a few minutes to write and/or draw their thoughts and read the thoughts of others.


  • Review and highlight some of the points on the shared board.

Read Watch Listen | 5 minutes


  • Wrap up the workshop and sum up its contents. Mention if this workshop will be continued by other sessions from the “Human Element” series (e.g. “The Human Element: Identifying and Reaching Out to Sources Safely” and/or “How to identify, nurture, and maintain human sources safely”).

  • Run a quick review of the session to gather quick reactions. Each participant would say:

    • one thing they found very good about the session and
    • one thing they would improve for the next time
  • Encourage participants to ask questions or give some final tips.

  • Share contact information if relevant, and any follow-up details.

Further Resources

On the topic:

Other related resources:

Contact Us

Please reach out to us at Exposing the Invisible if you:

  • have any questions about this workshop plan and facilitation guidelines,
  • use this workshop plan and want to share feedback and suggestions that can help to improve them,
  • adapt the workshop plan to a specific context and want to share the results with us,
  • want to suggest new activities, tips or examples that can be added to this workshop,
  • want to share your expertise and collaborate with us on developing and testing new workshops.

Contact: (GPG Key / fingerprint: BD30 C622 D030 FCF1 38EC C26D DD04 627E 1411 0C02).

Credits and Licensing

CC BY-SA 4.0

This content is produced by Tactical Tech's Exposing the Invisible project, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license

  • Workshop author: Nuria Tesón
  • Instructional design: A. Hayder
  • Editorial and content: Christy Lange, Laura Ranca
  • Graphic design: Yiorgos Bagakis
  • Website development: Laurent Dellere, Saqib Sohail
  • Project coordination and supervision: Christy Lange, Laura Ranca, Lieke Ploeger, Marek Tuszynski, Safa Ghnaim, Wael Eskandar

This resource has been developed as part of the Collaborative and Investigative Journalism Initiative (CIJI) co-funded by the European Commission under the Pilot Project: "Supporting investigative journalism and media freedom in the EU" (DG CONNECT).

This text reflects the author’s view and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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