Both the realization and evaluation of interviews is based on the concept of qualitative research, especially biographical and feminist research.
We defined the methodological approach during more than one-year-long period when five international seminars were held and attended by all project partners. It was clear to us from the very beginning that we all understand the project to be open as we learn at each interview, we learn while reading and analyzing interviews, we learn when meeting again and attending each international seminar. Based upon experience from the project pilot phase, the following methodological consensus was developed and agreed upon as binding for all partners at the week-long seminar in Brač, a Croatian island, in 1999.
- Interviews start with a common suggestion: "Tell us please about your life." We try not to mix into the narration during the first part of the interview, we only encourage them to talk as long as they like and about any details they feel to be important. The minimal length of the interview is 90 minutes; however, it is very much dependent on the woman herself how long she wants to give us her story.
- In the second part of the interview, we use a helping grid to focus on common thematic areas and, later on, on national characteristics. We also aim at additional and assessing questions such as role of women, coping with different roles in the life phases, comparison of differences in lives of respondents and their mothers, and/or daughter and granddaughters.
- All interviews are archived and transcribed completely.
- Accompanying materials are added to each interview: record, biogram and summary - all of these are translated to German or English if possible. Each interviews is also provided with key words from a list of entries that was approved by the whole team for the use of the international archives.
- Interviews have been gradually completed with further materials, data and/or studies that make clearer the historical context, legislation regarding women, accessible statistical and demographic data, historic discourse related to women's issues, profile of the most widespread women's magazine and the way it presented women - they take form of specific studies, magisterial or doctoral theses etc. - see Publications.
In Brač, we also decided that the international archives of the project should be based in Gender Studies, o.p.s. in Prague. All interviews' transcriptions in their original languages, accompanying materials in German/English (record, biogram and summary) have been archived there since the project's launch. The original records of interviews (cassettes, minidisks) have been kept in the national archives of relevant teams.
As the project is oriented at biographical narrations, they outline the predominant characteristics of the account: they focus on every day reality and history as seen from below. We look for the lived reality, not for objective truth. We do not provide the narrators with the helping grid of open questions since we do not want to suggest any possible questions. It only serves as an orientation set of issues for us to bear in mind and use during the interview.
The project's feminist character defines especially our relation to the narrators: they are never objects of our curiosity, on the contrary, they are the project's subjects - they embody its sense and its aim. We see interview as a process of interaction between the inquirer and the narrator that is based on mutual confidence. The key ethics of the project lies in absolute equal roles both women have in the interview: the art of listening one to another is very important and we had to learn it. We do not want to focus at simple collection of "data" but at the woman's reflection of her identity. Interviews usually bring both to the narrator and the questioner very interesting experience. Many women wrote or called us later on wanting to add a detail, comment some of their answers, give a follow-up to the assessing questions, i.e. how their life differed from their mother's one. We have kept very good, often friendly, relations with most of the women who were interviewed during the whole project. We have stayed in good contacts - some of the German respondents actively participated at the international conference entitled "Future Needs Memories" that presented the project and the eldest generation involved in its interviews.
Majority of interviews was realized in the narrators' homes which is very important for the atmosphere to be spontaneous and friendly, as well as for us to meet the woman in her natural environment. It often comes to looking at photographs and recalling back personal memories. The interview usually takes several hours; sometimes, it is necessary to visit the narrator again. Some women have prepared for the interview, made some notes or at least thought it over.
For most of the interviewees, it was the very first time they told someone the whole story of their life. In some cases, never before did they talk of bad experiences, such as rape. It is obvious that we ensure anonymity to each narrator and full control over her testimony - it is only upon her decision whether she agrees with eventual anonymous publication of her interview.
B. Women - Narrators
The value and quality of the interview depends very much on the choice of women to be interviewed. Every life story is important but not everybody manages to reflect it and not everybody wants to present it.
One of the most important criteria when the narrators are addressed is their willingness to share their life experience, memories and ideas about what the second half of the 20th century brought to women, what it took away and what it meant to women.
We looked for women who live so-called "ordinary, normal, casual, common" life. It may very well mean that they are extraordinary and wonderful personalities. These unknown women often did not have the opportunity to speak of their opinions and experiences, they have never been asked for doing so and they are surprised that their everyday life might be interesting for someone.
We divided the interviewees into three generations - grandmothers, mothers and daughters - the first of our generations includes women born in the 1920's, women born in the 1930's form the second generations and the third one relates to women born between 1940-1960. We were aware that the eldest generation, today in their eighties, has been leaving already and we did not dare letting the memories and experiences they lived through be forgotten or misinterpreted later. Moreover, it is the generation that lived their active life under the Socialist times, experienced the historical and social changes of the second half of the 20th century and participated in these changes in some way. Related to this, the largest number of interviews was realized with this generation of women. In a sense, we understand these interviews to be saving a lot of concrete details from the life of this generation.
C. How do we look for narrators?
Similarly to the majority of other oral-history projects, we rely on the principle coincidence, i.e. on the method of a snowball. Usually, we work on the basis of recommendation which is highly important for the respondents to trust us: we could not come to anyone and ask her to tell us the story of her life, question her about intimate issues such as partner relationships, birth-giving, contraception, abortion.
When choosing the respondents, we consider wide socio-cultural spectrum respecting geographical variety, towns and countryside. We meet women of different education, professions or marital status.
Every interview is completely transcribed. We opted for transcription that preserves all specificities of the woman's language use and/or her dialect; however, we do not put down unfinished words, interjections or slips of tongue. It is a mere compromise between accuracy of what was told and readability.
Transcriptions have different length: they range from 15 to 90 pages; usually they have 40 pages.
E. Members of working teams
The national teams are composed of women of different professions so that variety of disciplines is involved; therefore, there are historians, ethnologists, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, linguists, publishers and writers represented in each of the teams. At the very beginning, most of the teams involved women in their forties and fifties as we thought it was necessary for them have some experience in common with the narrators, i.e. life in Socialist times etc. Today, young women cooperate intensely with a number of national teams since they were very much interested in it and developed the teams' work as a background of their diploma theses.
The variety of representatives of different disciplines in the teams has proved significant during evaluation of materials. All team members represent specific viewpoints that are very interesting during the project assessment as the interviews' analyses then enrich all individuals and further project steps.