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Key Informant Interviews with Federal Government Public Servants

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  • Thank you for sharing Ryan. Your slideshare was very informative and relevant. I liked the fact that you outlined the current restrictions placed on this form of research as well as the process of getting access to the interviewees. I thought it was effective how you supported these barriers through the example with Puguliese. It almost feels as if the fees and barriers associated with the Access to Information Act are put in place to deter people from getting access to certain data. Do you know if any progress has been done to make this information more accessible or to modify the Act?
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  • Very interesting presentation! I found it grounding and a much appreciated reality check for my own research in using potential government documents. I found this presentation very timely as well.
    It might be useful to bold the main points that you could like to convey to the audience, as your presentation is very text-heavy. The image with the personal tangled in red is great - consider using more graphic images like these to capture the audience! Overall, well done.
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  • Great presentation on a very interesting topic (you have some very good insight into this issue). I like the focus on the federal government, given the recent changes and controversies regarding divulging information. Good overview of the current situation and the associated sensitivities. Good way to showcase how during an interview process with government officials, the formal questions asked will continually change depending upon new information that is given in previous interviews. You have a discussion of sample selection, whereas snowball sampling is discussed. Maybe more discussion on sampling techniques for government employees would be useful (I know it would for my research) as this is a more complicated process than it appears to be, given the lengths (access to info request etc) that researchers have to go to.
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  • Very interesting slides Ryan! I would not have known that there was actually a formal way of getting information from the public sector via an ATI Act. Similar in Malaysia, snowball sampling and extensive reliance on informal network seems to be the only way to get something out of the “not so public sector”. Its interesting how that there is actually an Act to access information, whether it is effective or not is another thing.

    I guess similar to interviews done on CNN or CBC, most of the bureaucrats that appears on air are normally “Former” so and so. Those that are still in office rarely appear on the news interview. If the process/paperwork really takes that long – by the time there is an approval (or a reply), the news would be focusing on something else.

    Do you think the interview process if done, public service to public service (from different department) research would be different? As in, if the role of the researcher is played by another public officer?
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  • hi R

    I knew it was difficult, but things have certainly tightened up since 2006. Are those suggested by another not hesitant to volunteer given the national security, Cabinet confidences and the like? Will the Public Service look to the military to have front end PR spokepersons? Great insight.Thanks

    K
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Key Informant Interviews with Federal Government Public Servants

  1. 1. Key  Informant  Interviews   with  Canadian  Federal  Government   Public  Servants   Ryan  Southwood   University  of  Guelph     March  2014  
  2. 2. IntroducDon   •  This  presentaDon  will  touch  on:   –  The  different  categories  of  Key  Informant  Interviews  (KII)   –  How  to  use  this  qualitaDve  method  when  seeking  informaDon  from  public  servants   –  The  Access  to  InformaDon  process   •  In-­‐depth  interviews  with  public  servants  have  long  been  a  tool  used  to  research  government   policies.    With  the  centralizaDon  of  informaDon  preferred  by  the  current  federal  government,   current  research  has  indicated  that  it  has  become  more  difficult  for  academics  and   journalists  to  have  access  to  public  servants  to  gather  data  for  analysis.  
  3. 3. Key  Informant  Interviews   Category   Descrip4on   Unstructured  Interviews   Ø  Historic  beginnings  for  KII   Ø  Ethnographers  would  observe  acDviDes  from  the   sidelines    and  then  parDcipate  in  guided   conversaDons  to  gather  more  in-­‐depth  informaDon   Semi-­‐structured  Interviews   Ø  Rarely  includes  observaDon  of  interviewee  in  daily  life   Ø  Usually  structured  around  a  series  of  open  and  closed   ended  quesDons   Ø  The  guide  is  used  as  a  framework  and  new   informaDon  that  is  uncovered  is  explored  during  the   interview.   Structured  Interviews   Ø  Follow  the  developed  guide  much  more  closely   Ø  Limit  the  interviewer’s  ability  to  explore  new  data   uncovered  in  the  interview   Ø  Most  oYen  used  to  collect  quanDtaDve  data   DiCicco-­‐Bloom  &  Crabtree  (2006)  
  4. 4. Current  SituaDon   •  The  current  Canadian  Federal  Government  seeks  to   control  the  disseminaDon  of  informaDon.     Accordingly,  with  the  centralizaDon  of  informaDon  it   is  increasingly  difficult  for  journalists  and  researchers   to  interview  public  servants  and  government   scienDsts.   •  While  the  CommunicaDons  Policy  for  the   Government  of  Canada  (2006)  does,  “encourage   public  service  managers  and  employees  to   communicate  openly  with  the  public…[they]  must   respect  privacy  rights,  ma9ers  before  the  courts,   na4onal  security,  Cabinet  confidences  and   ministerial  responsibility”.     •  Cabinet  confidences  and  ministerial  responsibility  can   create  a  hesita4on  on  the  side  of  public  servants  to   share  informaDon  for  fear  that  it  will  stray  into   privacy  issues  or  expose  these  confidences  and   responsibiliDes  that  many  not  be  clearly  defined.   (Jiwani  &  Krawchenko,  2014)  
  5. 5. Public  Service  Interviews   •  It  is  becoming  increasing  difficult  for  academics  to  get  approval  to  talk  with  public  servants  if   going  through  formal  channels.    If  these  requests  are  to  be  entertained  a  full  list  of  quesDons   that  will  be  asked  must  be  submifed,  the  interviewee  draYs  the  responses,  and  the   responses  are  reviewed  by  a  senior  execuDve.    Approval  levels  depend  on  the  department   but  are  usually  held  at  the  director  or  assistant  deputy  minister  level.    These  approvals  may   lead  to  interviews  with  higher  level  bureaucrats  than  the  researcher  anDcipated  (Jiwani  &   Krawchenko,  2014).   •  This  format  forces  the  researcher  into  a  structured  interview  and  severely  limits  the   freedom  to  explore  unanDcipated  areas  that  might  be  uncovered  during  the  interview.   •  Researchers  that  have  extensive  contacts  in  government  have  had  more  success  requesDng   interviews  through  their  networks  in  an  informal  manner.    These  interviews  are  rarely   conducted  at  the  interviewees  place  of  work  and  the  interviewee  will  want  to  ensure   anonymity.   •  In  cases  like  this,  the  snowball  sampling   technique  may  be  a  researchers  only  opDon.     The  researcher  will  rely  on  the  informal  network   to  provide  addiDonal  contacts  who  may  be   willing  to  be  interviewed.  
  6. 6. Access  to  InformaDon   •  As  formal  approvals  for  interviews  with  public  servants  are  harder  to  receive,  many   researchers  are  turning  to  the  Access  to  InformaDon  Act  to  gain  informaDon.   •  The  data  gathered  from  an  Access  to  InformaDon  (ATI)  request  can  be  used  to  triangulate   data  gathered  from  interviews,  to  formulate  addiDonal  ATI  requests,  or  create  addiDonal   interview  quesDons  for  public  servants.   •  To  be  eligible  to  make  a  request  under  the  Access  to  InformaDon  Act  you  must  be  a  Canadian   ci4zen,  a  permanent  resident  of  Canada  or  an  individual  or  corpora4on  currently  present  in   Canada.    The  process  is  as  follows:   IdenDfy  which  insDtuDon   holds  the  informaDon   you  wish.    Look  at   hfp:// www.infosource.gc.ca/ emp/emp05-­‐ eng.asp#chapters     Fill  out  the  online  or  paper   request  form.    Be  as  specific   as  possible.    Online  form   available  at   hfps://aDp-­‐aiprp.apps.gc.ca/ aDp/welcome.do?lang=en         Pay  the  mandatory  $5  fee.     This  fee  enDtles  you  to  5   hours  of  searching  or   preparaDon.    If  more  Dme  is   required  there  will  be   addiDonal  charges.    Wait  for   the  government  to  respond.         Simple,  Right?  
  7. 7. Not  so  fast…   •  The  department  you  have  submifed  the  ATI  request  to  has  30  days  from  receipt  of  the   request  to  respond.    However,  the  government  can  request  an  extension  for  reasons  such  as   the  volume  of  requests  and  consultaDon  with  other  parDes.   •  Study  the  ATI  Act  to  learn  what  you  are  enDtled  to  under  the  Act.    A  Canadian  journalist   named,  Puguliese  (2006)  writes  of  his  experiences  gaining  informaDon  under  the  Act.     Bureaucrats  have:   –  Led  him  to  think  that  work  was  being  done  on  the  request  unDl  it  was  too  late  to  file  a   complaint   –  Claimed  that  because  he  did  not  respond  in  a  Dmely  manner  to  one  of  their  lefers,  they   were  abandoning  the  request  (there  is  no  porDon  of  the  Act  that  allows  for  this)   –  Requested  informaDon  would  be  costly  to  photocopy  and  deliver.    Puguliese  (2006)   discovered  that  researchers  can  go  in  and  view  the  documents  in  person.    The   documents  can  also  be  sent  to  the  closest  government  office  at  no  charge  so  the   documents  can  be  viewed.   •  Puguliese  (2006)  ended  his  arDcle  by  staDng  he  had  interviewed,  “a  former  ATO  analyst  who   told  me  that  at  the  departments  he  had  worked  in,  the  main  goal  was  to  discourage  ATI   users  to  the  point  where  they  didn’t  file  any  more  requests”.    
  8. 8. Complaints   •  A  complaint  can  be  filed  with  the  Office  of  the  InformaDon   Commissioner  related  to  a  request  through  the  ATI  Act.    These   complaints  can  be  about:   –  ExempDons  applied  to  your  request   –  Delays  in  response  Dme   –  Fees     –  Other  issues   •  Complaints  must  be  filed  in  wriDng  and  within  60  days  of  a   response  from  the  government.    All  complaints  must  be  filed   one  year  from  the  Dme  your  request  was  first  received  (G.oC.,   1985)   However…   •  The  invesDgaDon  process  is  extremely  backlogged  and  can  take   up  a  year  to  be  resolved  (Puguliese,  2006)   •  Not  all  research  experiences  will  be  the  same.    A  CBC  arDcle   demonstrates  how  some  public  servants  are  going  out  of  their   way  to  provide  the  public  informaDon   hfp://www.cbc.ca/news/poliDcs/how-­‐one-­‐defence-­‐staffer-­‐ stood-­‐up-­‐for-­‐access-­‐to-­‐informaDon-­‐1.2555659    
  9. 9. Conclusion   •  To  be  successful  at  gathering  data  from  public  servants  you  must:   –  Be  prepared  to  use  informal  contacts  to  gain  access   –  Use  the  Snowball  technique  to  gain  access  to  addiDonal  interviewees   –  Use  Access  to  InformaDon  requests  to  assist  in  triangulaDng  the  data  and  develop  your   quesDon  guides   –  Be  familiar  with  the  Act  in  order  to  miDgate  the  roadblocks  that  will  be  placed  in  your   way   –  Use  mulDple  ATI  requests  to  keep  costs  down   –  Be  prepared  to  conduct  only  structured  interviews  if  formal  approval  is  granted.   •  If  you  decide  to  gather  data  from  public  servants  it  will  be  a  Dme  consuming  process  whether   you  have  informal  connecDons  or  not.    Learn  the  dialogue  associated  with  the  parDcular   department  you  are  interested  in  and  gather  as  much  open  source  informaDon  available  to   befer  direct  your  ATI  requests.    
  10. 10. References   Cudmore,  J.    (March  2,  2014)  How  one  defence  staffer  stood  up  for  Access  to  InformaDon.    CBC  News.     Retrieved  from             hfp://www.cbc.ca/news/poliDcs/how-­‐one-­‐defence-­‐staffer-­‐stood-­‐up-­‐for-­‐access-­‐to-­‐ informaDon-­‐1.2555659      DiCicco-­‐Bloom,  B.,  &  Crabtree,  B.  F.  (2006).  The  qualitaDve  research  interview.  Medical  Educa1on,   40(4),  314-­‐321.       Government  of  Canada.  Treasury  Board  of  Canada  Secretariat.  (2006).  CommunicaDons  Policy  of  the   Government  of  Canada.  Accessed  9  March  2014  from               hfp://www.tbs-­‐sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-­‐eng.aspx?secDon=text&id=12316     Government  of  Canada.    Minister  of  JusDce.  (1985).    Access  to  InformaDon  Act.    Accessed  9  March  2014   from  hfp://laws-­‐lois.jusDce.gc.ca/PDF/A-­‐1.pdf     Jiwani,  F.  N.,  &  Krawchenko,  T.  (2014).  Public  policy,  access  to  government,  and  qualitaDve  research   pracDces:  ConducDng  research  within  a  culture  of  informaDon  control.  Canadian    Public  Policy,   40(1),  57.       Pugliese,  D.    (Spring  2006).  A  handy  guide  to  using  Canada's  access  to  informaDon  law.  Media,  12,    10-­‐11.      

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