Access and Interview Situation

The interviewees were identified through researching the universities’ research offices and/or general organisational forms in order to establish who could most suitably answer the questions (i.e. questions on public funding streams, private sector collaboration, intellectual property rights (IPR), costing and overall strategy). Since research offices are quite differently organised within universities, the position of the interviewees varies. Some offices are organised into subject areas whereby one person has an overview of everything related to the subject they are responsible for. Other offices are organised according to tasks with, for example, one person being responsible for IPRs, another for external contracts and another for public funding streams. Sometimes the relevant persons were not even located in one research office, but in various departments across the university (e.g. legal or finance departments in addition to research offices). These differences can be explained by the fact that these offices developed relatively recently and that there is no strict model to be followed. Instead universities have to find their own ways to establish suitable structures.[1] In each university the persons were chosen solely on their ability to answer the questions. If offices were structured according to subject areas, the persons responsible for the subjects identified above were asked all the questions. In other cases where offices were structured according to tasks, it was usually the public and private funding officers, the IPR officer and sometimes a legal or policy officer who were interviewed and the experts were only asked those questions which related to their respective responsibilities. In offices where it was difficult to identify the relevant interviewees, interviews were conducted with the head of the research office or in a focus group[2] containing all potentially relevant persons.

The interviews generally took place in a friendly, professional atmosphere with the interviewees seeming keen to help, provide information and showing an interest in the project and its outcomes. One exception occurred in the very first university visited where, in one focus group, one interviewee was unhappy with the information provided to her and with the questions asked, since she did not feel she could relate them to the overall project even after further explanation. This interviewee withdrew her consent at the end of the interview. Anything said by this interviewee therefore had to be disregarded. The other participants of the focus group, however, gave their consent, so the remainder of what had been said in the focus group could be used. A review with other, more senior researchers, has been conducted after this incident and it was agreed that the interview questions were appropriate and necessary, but that future interviews should adhere more closely to the guide rather than being conducted too freely which may have partly contributed to the problem. The more structured approach[3] as well as the increasing experience and ease of the researcher may have played a role in the much improved results thereafter. For future researchers following a similar structured approach it may thus be advisable to, at least initially, stick close to the guide and perhaps to prepare some more detailed examples of how questions relate to the project. It may, in cases of researchers who conduct empirical research for the first time, also be helpful to explain this to the experts to be interviewed (at least in the first couple of interviews) and to ask them to appreciate that this is a novel situation for the researcher as well. However, if an individual interviewee nevertheless feels that they do not wish to participate after all, this simply has to be respected and information needs to be gained as best as possible from other interviews or alternative sources (if at all applicable).

  • [1] For more on this see Locker-Grutjen et al. 2012.
  • [2] On focus groups see Patton 2002, p. 385 seq.
  • [3] Despite using a more structured approach after the mentioned incident, the questions were notalways asked in the same order, since they were split between different interviewees or the conversation flowed in different directions leading to proceeding to a different topic and returning tothe other questions later. Sometimes interviewees had also already answered a question with aprevious answer or less important questions needed to be skipped due to time constraints.
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