Is Your Oral History Legal and Ethical?

4 During The Interview

Once the interview is underway it is important to remember the interviewee’s wishes from both a social and an ethical perspective.

The interview relationship

A good interview is only achievable if there is mutual trust and rapport between the people involved. If for any reason an interviewee asks that the interview be ended or broken off and resumed at some later date, that preference should be respected. With this in mind it is often helpful before the interview begins to agree a time to finish the recording session, or perhaps to arrange to have a break.

Maintaining confidentiality

Interviewers, and project staff/volunteers processing interview data, should treat the content of the interview as confidential until a Recording Agreement or other access agreement has been finalised. If a duty of confidentiality is not included in standard employment contract terms and conditions, or in volunteer contracts, then project managers should consider asking project staff and volunteers to sign a Confidentiality Agreement, (PDF – 70Kb). Ensure this is extended to remote workers such as home-based freelance transcribers to encompass the deletion of data on local drives at the conclusion of the project.

Awareness of defamation and libel

Interviewers should be aware of potential libel or defamation and the disclosure of sensitive personal data which might cause ‘substantial damage and distress’ to people mentioned as the interview process progresses. They should record these instances (with time codes) on an Interview Sensitivity Review Form as the interview is being summarised (or transcribed) and then subsequently bring any concerns to the attention of interviewees and project leaders so that everyone involved can weigh up the likely risks of disclosure involved. This ensures that risks have been assessed and that decisions made resulting in the closure or partial closure of the interview have been properly documented.

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