Oral tradition

Contact with community and interviewees

Once the work plan is designed, the next step –important, basic– is to inform the community about the project and the project's intentions, including the description of the collection process and the destination that will be given to the obtained information. These activities must be carried out from a grass-root development perspective, that is, responding to specific needs of the community itself, and always counting on their approval, participation and evaluation. To achieve such a participation, the objectives and interests of the project must be disseminated within the community. It is advisable to contact schools and cultural groups, and include news on local radio and newspapers: the more interest, the better results.

The approach to the group and its members, their reality, their stories and their needs, is always a good start for a series of interviews. It allows us to familiarize ourselves with the landscape and the environment, the customs and experiences of the people, and even with local speech and idioms. It also allows perceiving if the empty spaces that motivate the project really exist.

Elders, historians, teachers and the local radio itself can provide valuable advice and very good guidance: what questions to ask, who to contact and how to use the collected information. A group of local councilors may even be formed to discuss progress and problems. This way, the community will be completely linked to the development of the work of collecting oral tradition, which is its own tradition.

The next step is searching informants within the chosen socio-cultural field. Elders, children, housewives, laborers, trade unionists, youth or artisans, depending on the theme and goals, can provide valuable records. The community itself usually knows its best oral exponents, that is, those individuals better able to verbally express the knowledge that is attempted to record.

The selection criteria should be adjusted to fit the research objective. It is important to include different subjects, different points of view on the same subject: each testimony will be individual and subjective, and, as such, will not be generalized and will express only a personal opinion forged at a particular moment under certain circumstances.

Once potential subjects are chosen, as much as possible should be ascertained about them. The deep knowledge about the interviewee will confirm the interest for him and his role in the project. In the long run, this knowledge will establish a stable relationship, on a shared information basis.

The request for an interview is one of the most delicate moments in an oral collection process. A poorly planned first contact may deter a potential respondent from accepting the proposal. After selecting them, the chosen ones should be contacted and visited. It is necessary to explain to them, in a complete and careful way, the identity of the interviewer, the nature of the project, the reasons, the working methods and, above all, the destiny that will be given to the collected records. The entire interview process should be described in detail, especially the devices to be used: many people become nervous or uncomfortable in front of a microphone. At the same time, it can be subtly ascertained whether the person really knows the topic they are interested in collecting, and if they are able to verbally express their ideas (in the case of elders or young people, this point may present certain drawbacks).

It should also be clarified whether they will be paid or they will have fees. If so, it should be stipulated clearly how much and why, and it should be reported that a signed receipt will be required. In addition, the existence of consent forms, their nature and the need for their signing must be explained. Some of the ideas presented in these documents may be confusing to some people, and therefore need to be clarified.

Some potential respondents need some time to think about whether they accept the proposal and the conditions, or ask for more information. All data and time required should be provided in a cordial and respectful manner. If the subjects agree (and demonstrate knowledge of the topic, and have easy expression), permission must be requested to return for the interview, making an appointment (which must be confirmed and respected).

Sometimes, people will decline the invitation to be interviewed, since they consider that their knowledge or experience is of little value. If that happens, the individual should be encouraged to speak, expressing the type of information that is needed and the importance of it. Many people find it astonishing that a professional is interested in their life and memories. If he still maintains his position, the attempt must be abandoned, although an open door must be left tactfully for a new contact at a future time.

Some potential interviewees may express their mistrust at the recording process, asking "How will you know if I am telling the truth or lying, or hiding things?" In the face of such an attitude, the interviewer should express that the truth is not sought, but to obtain personal experiences and personal points of view, whatever the conditions in which they are told. At the same time, and very subtly, true information must be given great value. It should be remembered here that such a situation of misleading statements does not represent a problem, because, through other interviews on the same subject, or some auxiliary investigation, the data obtained can be corroborated or falsified.