Dealing with chaos and complexity: the reality of interviewing children and families in their own homes

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The aim of this paper is to share our experiences of dealing with chaos and complexity in interview situations in the home with children and young people. We highlight dilemmas relevant to dealing with multiple interruptions, building a rapport, consent and confidentiality. Furthermore, we discuss issues regarding the locus of power and control and offer some solutions based on our experiences.


Creating a safe environment is essential for qualitative research. Participants are more likely to open up and communicate if they feel safe, comfortable and relaxed. We conclude that interviewing parents and their children with cystic fibrosis in their own homes, is chaotic and appears to threaten the rigour of data collection processes. Limited attention or print space is paid to this issue, with published articles frequently sanitising the messiness of real world qualitative research.


Position paper.


In this position paper, we use two case studies to illustrate ethical and pragmatic challenges of interviewing out in the field. These case studies, typical of families we encountered, help emphasise the concerns we had in balancing researcher–participant rapport with the quality of the research process.


Dealing with perceived chaos is hard in reality, but capturing it is part of the complexity of qualitative enquiry. The context is interdependent with children's perceived reality, because they communicate with others through their environment.

Relevance to practice

This paper gives researchers an insight into the tensions of operating out in the field and helps raise the importance of the environmental ‘chaos’ in revealing significant issues relevant to peoples daily lives. Knowing that unexpected chaos is part and parcel of qualitative research, will equip researchers with skills fundamental for balancing the well being of all those involved with the quality of the research process.

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