The contextual inquiry is a specific type of interview for gathering field data from users. It is usually done by one interviewer speaking to one interviewee (person being interviewed) at a time. The aim is to gather as much data as possible from the interviews for later analysis.
Important benefits of this type of interview are:
Planning a contextual inquiry means to make sure that you can interview with the right users and that they are not entirely negative being interviewed with. In traditional interviews it is sometimes difficult to get interviewees to interview with, because they claim that they do not have got the time. In contextual inquiry it is actually much easier, because the main part of the interview actually consists of watching users do their work and interacting with colleagues, which doesn't steal much time from the users.
When at the interview with the interviewee it is very important to have a focus, a focus can be seen as a number of assumptions and beliefs concerning what we want to accomplish and how we want to accomplish it (short example: "We're building a system to handle customer inquiries. It is a straight-forward process. Should manage 100 customer inquiries a day"). Building up this focus can be done in conjunction with the person ordering the contextual inquiry. Another way of building a focus is for example by focus groups or user surveys. Important when it comes to focus is to realise that a focus is never, ever true. It truly is not complete and represents (ideally) only part of the truth. For successful interview results, the focus must be severely challenged by the interviewer.
There are typically four phases in the interview:
Since this method produces vast amounts of data it is important to analyse the data. This can be done using the contextual design method or any other method that may be handy. Examples of method that may be useful is task analysis to verify the process. The most useful method to analyse the amount of data may be to create an affinity diagram.
Beyer, H. & Holtzblatt, K. (1998) Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers ISBN 1-55860-411-1©UsabilityNet 2006. Reproduction permitted provided the source is acknowledged.