A Contextual Inquiry (CI) is a structured form of a Qualitative Interview. We will often use this for new projects or new endeavors. For internal research, we will sit next to users in their environment in the operations squad area. (Not in a conference room!) For external partners, try to work with users in their environment as much as possible.


CI’s are semi-structured interviews. They often follow a similar flow:

Phase One, Interview:

Interview the user and state the focus of what you are looking to accomplish (for instance: We want to build a streamlined way to update delivery status for truckers.) Work to gain user’s trust and assure confidentiality and anonymity.

Phase Two, The Switch:

We explain what we want to learn how to do, and we shadow one participant for a set of activities. Switch to being a master/apprentice where the user is teaching you and overseeing what you are doing. Ask questions as they work and take notes on the environment. (Set up guidelines on how to interrupt the master” for basic clarification.)

Phase Three, Summarize:

The researcher should then sit down with the user to summarize their work. Highlight the challenges and preferences users have expressed. Ask users to correct your inaccuracies. Follow their reactions to your summary closely.