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Audio recording MPs

April 17, 2019

Well this has never come up for me before in 16 years of working in this job, but recently I had cause to conduct depth interviews with some Members of Parliament (MPs).

This was an absolutely typical research project in every other respect.  As well as the MPs I interviewed 20+ other stakeholders of all kinds including charity staff and service users.

Again, typically, the research was completely anonymous.  I had no intentions of including any names in my report, and the plan was that any quotes that I used from the MPs would be unlabelled and mixed in with the quotes of the 20+ others.  With the permission of respondents I intended to audio record the conversations – purely for my own use so that I had a full record of the data and didn’t need to take notes. As is good practice, I told all potential participants all of this up front before they agreed to participate.

When I was preparing my recruitment information, the audio recording aspect jumped out of me.  I very rarely get anyone asking NOT to be audio recorded but it did cross my mind that an MP comes to research from a different place than most.  They are people in the public eye, and people with reputation and responsibilities, and people who the press might be interested in. Now I wasn’t planning to ask them anything challenging or controversial but I’m quite aware that from their point of view they have no idea how the conversation might go.  Nor would I ever let anyone else hear the audio recordings – even if they turned out to be interesting – but they don’t know that.  So it did cross my mind that me holding an audio recording of them having an informal and candid conversation could feel like a greater ‘risk’ to them than it might for you or I.

I know I’m absolutely scrupulous about this stuff, but they don’t.

I am asking them to trust me.

I don’t know if they were actually bothered about this (I guess they are ‘on show’ all the time anyway), but what I did do was add a few extra words into my recruitment email, as emboldened below:

With your permission I would like to audio record the conversation for analysis purposes.  I am the only one that will hear or have access to the tape, and all reporting will be anonymous so your name won’t appear anywhere in any reporting at all.  Further detail about my credentials and the evaluation approach can be found here [link].  I am happy to discuss or clarify this part further if need be to be sure that you are comfortable with it.

I hope this showed me to be legitimate and flexible!

Well they let me interview them, anyway.

Exciting for me!

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