What is a “snowball”? For some, a snowball is a drink made of advocaat and lemonade; for others, a mix of heroin and cocaine injected; for yet others, a handful of packed snow commonly thrown at objects or people; for gamblers, it refers to a cash prize that accumulates over successive games; for social scientists, it is a form of sampling. There are other uses for the term in the stock market and further historical usages that refer to stealing things from washing lines or that are racist. Clearly then, different people in different contexts and different times will have used the term “snowball” to refer to various activities or processes. Problems like this—whereby a particular word or phrase may have various meanings or may be interpreted variously—are just one of the issues for which cognitive interviews can offer insights (and possible solutions).
Cognitive interviews can also help researchers designing surveys to identify problems with mistranslation of words, or near-translations that do not quite convey the intended meaning. They are also useful for ensuring that terms are understood in the same way by all sections of society, and that they can be used to assess the degree to which organizational structures are similar in different countries (not all jurisdictions have traffic police, for example). They can also assess conceptual equivalence. Among the issues explored here are the following:
• What cognitive interviews are
• The background to their development
• Why they might be used in cross-national crime and victimization surveys
• Some of the challenges associated with cross-national surveys
• Ways cognitive interviews can help with these challenges
• Different approaches to cognitive interviewing (and the advantages of each)
• How to undertake cognitive interviews
• A “real-world” example of a cognitive interviewing exercise
• Whether different probing styles make any difference to the quality of the data derived.