That the answers elicited through interviews may be influenced by the knowledge of the interviewer is accepted across disciplines. However, in ethnobotany, there is little evidence to quantitatively assess what impact this effect may have. We use the results of a large study of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of plant use of the Chácobo and Pacahuara of Beni, Bolivia, to explore the effects of interviewer identity and knowledge upon the elicited plant species and uses.
The Chácobo are a Panoan speaking tribe of about 1000 members (300+ adults) in Beni, Bolivia. Researchers have collected anthropological and ethnobotanical data from the Chácobo for more than a century. Here, we present a complete ethnobotanical inventory of the entire adult Chácobo population, with interviews and plant collection conducted directly by Chácobo counterparts, with a focus on the effects caused by external interviewers.
Within this large study, with a unified training for interviewers, we did find that different interviewers did elicit different knowledge sets, that some interviewers were more likely to elicit knowledge similar to their own, and that participants interviewed multiple times often gave information as different as that from two randomly chosen participants.
Despite this, we did not find this effect to be overwhelming—the amount of knowledge an interviewer reported on the research subject had comparatively little effect on the amount of knowledge that interviewer recorded from others, and even those interviewers who tended to elicit similar answers from participants also elicited a large percentage of novel information.