GHANA DATA ECOSYSTEM DOCUMENTATION PROJECT: MY REFLECTIONS FROM A NON-STATISTICAL PERSPECTIVE – PART TWO: THE ESSENCE OF ARTFUL INTERVIEWING IN A VIDEO DOCUMENTARY
A Blog by Cyrus Kwesi DARPOH
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
– Sir Isaac Newton, renowned English mathematician, physicist and philosopher
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As a member of Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), one memorable thing I associate with the years 2015 and 2016 is the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, and the subsequent adoption of the indicator framework in March 2016.
This influenced the entire direction of GSS as the Leader/Coordinator of the National Statistical System (NSS) of Ghana, as GSS was compelled to creatively begin a process to determine the data availability in the NSS in order to report Ghana’s progress, and help achieve the SDGs.
This journey led GSS to initiate a series of processes to address three key priorities: (i.) Fill data gaps; (ii.) Intensify usage of data for development and policy planning; and (iii.) Strengthen the entire data ecosystem of Ghana.
The initiative of GSS has so far received a plethora of commendations and has been cited by many international organizations, including the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank, as a model for emulation by others in the quest to increase the generation and the use of evidence in decision making.
How did GSS do it? How is GSS still doing it? Those are the fundamental questions that led to the birth of the Ghana Data Ecosystem Documentation Project, a multimedia documentation project GSS is implementing in collaboration with Mpuntusem Foundation, a leading Pan-African development communication NGO based in Accra which specializes in multimedia documentation, research and advocacy on national and continental issues. The purpose of this collaboration is to produce a number of communication content, namely, documentaries, audio-visuals, blogs, and a book, among others, on the work to strengthen Ghana’s Data Ecosystem from 2015 to date.
The Ghana Data Ecosystem Documentation Project is premised on a permanent marriage between science and art, wherein the statistical nature of the entire data revolution superintended by GSS is being brought to light via a non-statistical approach or methodology through creative writing, video documentation, and photography. From the GSS side, I had the privilege of being selected to be the Project Focal Person by the Project Strategic Lead, Mr. Omar Seidu.
Sir Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. This aphorism aptly encapsulates the new experiences outside the statistical world that the Ghana Ecosystem Documentation Project has exposed me to as the Project Focal Person. And these are my personal reflections on the project.
Essence of Artful Interviewing Skills in the Production of Video Documentaries
My second reflection is on the set of skills needed to conduct an artful interview in the production of video documentaries I have been exposed to during this journey. I learnt all this and much more through the mentorship received from Mpuntusem Foundation’s Team as we worked together on the Ghana Data Ecosystem Documentation Project. However, I am briefly focusing on a few fundamental areas that can help guarantee a successful video documentary interview:
- An effective video documentary relies heavily on artful interviewing
I have learned that documentaries are powerful tools for communication and education. However, an effective video documentary is heavily dependent on artful interviewing. For the production to be successful, the production team, especially the interviewer, must have flexibility, curiosity, inquiry, ease with people, dogged determination to pursue the hard questions, active listening, empathy, and the ability to comprehend quickly the kind of questions that will elicit interesting stories from the interviewee.
- Artful interviewing requires planning and deciding on how to shoot the interview
I have also learned that prior to the interview, using video requires that certain decisions ought to be made. For example, will the interviewer be on camera with the interviewee in a two-shot, three-shot, over-the-shoulder, or a person-on-the-street interview? What is the best way to set up external microphones to ensure audible sound? Will the interviewer be off camera (one-shot) in either a formal or informal interview? If the interviewer’s questions are not to be included in the video, it is important for the interviewee to rephrase the question as a part of the response. So on and so forth.
- Artful Interviewing requires that we practice good interview manners.
I have learned that the subjects we interviewed during course of the project had to be treated with the utmost respect. We commenced the process by formally notifying them about the project, setting up an appointment and following up on the appointment. Other procedures that demonstrated respect for the interviewees were duly followed. This helped to create the needed rapport that ensured a successful interview.
- Artful Interviewing requires that the interview questions be meticulously planned.
One of the essential things I have learned is that Interviewers should come to an interview prepared with questions based on background research, but they also will need to exercise flexibility, curiosity, fast thinking, and active listening. Some of the key issues to focus on include: Has enough background information been researched to generate a list of questions and does the interviewer have the confidence to ask educated questions not on their list? Also, it is important to review the list of questions and ask, “Are the essential questions being asked?”
- Artful Interviewing requires that the interviewer practises active listening.
This is an aspect of artful interviewing I have learned on this journey which I always find intriguing. That is, active listening promotes an atmosphere of rapport and respect, and enables the interviewer to keep the interview process very natural and fluid. It involves body language – facial expressions, leaning forward, eye contact, etc. – listening without interrupting, paraphrasing, allowing interviewees time to respond before jumping in with the next question, intense listening, and sometimes laughter, somberness, etc., which may have to be communicated “silently” when the interviewer is not shown on camera. I have now realized that active listening engages interviewees as part of the process and values their contributions, making it is an essential ingredient for getting great stories or feedback in an interview.
- Artful Interviewing helps you to determine how to frame your subject in a documentary interview
Here again is another intriguing skill I have learned on this journey. To have an artful and successful interview, you need to make the following additional decisions especially on camera setup, framing your camera shot, making your background interesting (in this instance, we usually used a backdrop related to the subject matter of the interview, if available), choosing a suitable angle, ensuring that the lighting is adequate, and creating a set of ice-breakers that would help warm the interviewee for the shoot, etc.
Conclusion: Recommended Way Forward
In brief, these are some of practical video documentary skills I have learned on this journey. My personal but informed opinion is that the impact being made indisputably indicates that the Ghana Ecosystem Documentation Project should be a perennial undertaking. There are uncountable learnings and lessons GSS has garnered over a period of time – and is still in the unending process of garnering – that could be shared with other NSOs. Ghana’s Data Ecosystem Documentation Project has barely scratched the surface, for day in, day out, new projects, together with their concomitant new experiences, are happening. If we are to see further, we ought to stand on the shoulders of giants. The Data Ecosystem Documentation Project is the giant or springboard to help us see further to achieve greater results in the data revolution.
About Ghana Statistical Service
Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) is legally mandated by the Statistical Service Act, 2019 (Act 1003) with the responsibility of providing leadership, coordination and governance to all official statistical activities undertaken within the National Statistical System of Ghana. GSS also leads in the collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of official statistics, including conducting censuses, and surveys and leveraging Big Data for knowledge production.
About the Author
The author, Cyrus Kwesi Darpoh, is a member of the Social and Demographic Statistics Directorate of Ghana Statistical Service, the National Statistics Office of Ghana, and has the specific responsibility of managing/coordinating Ghana Data Ecosystem Documentation Project under the direction of the Project Strategic Lead, Mr. Omar Seidu, who is the Ag. Director of the Social and Demographic Statistics of GSS, as well as the Coordinator of Data for the SDGs.
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