Critical Incident Technique: Method, Example, Steps [Guide]

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Critical Incident Technique

What is Critical Incident Technique?

Researching an incident and its outcomes to obtain qualitative information is termed as critical incident technique.

In the research, the participants are asked to share their first-hand experience about the behavior, occurrence of a particular situation, and its outcomes.

John Flanagan introduced the method in 1954 through the Psychological Bulletin. The Critical Incident technique is often used in user interviews. While using user interviews, the types of questions asked are slightly different from the method used in the critical incident technique.

Let us take an example to understand the Critical Incident Technique clearly:

Situation: The participant is being asked about a tool that she has used.

  1. Describe the time when you used the tool- Normal Question
  2. Describe the time when you used the tool last- Specific Question
  3. Describe the time when you use the tool for your work, and it helped in making your job easier.- Critical Incident Question

The Critical Incident Technique entails a lot of follow-up questions. For example, the follow-up questions of the above question would be:

  • When have you used the tool last?
  • How did you use the tool?
  • What are the things you do with the tool?
  • Why did you choose this particular tool?

The participant is usually asked for both positive and negative feedback. The questions can be asked together or separately. Generally, if the positive and negative questions are asked together, the participant answers the positive questions first.

One participant can give many incidents. Hundreds and even thousands of incidents are collected with the help of many such interviews. When the codes (having the incidents) are saturated, it can be understood that the documentation required to fulfill the criteria is met.

Research paper on Critical Incident Technique by John C Flanagan.

Critical Incident Technique Advantages and Disadvantages

Critical incident technique like all methods has some advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages can be listed as

  • If Critical Incident Technique is used, it reveals the errors and issues fast.
  • There is no timeframe for taking incidents. The participant can take how much time he wants to evaluate and answer questions.
  • If there is some information that is uncommon and rare and cannot be found easily with standard sets of questions, CIT can very effectively evaluate and analyze them.
  • CIT gives more importance to the more critical errors and issues.
  • CIT is very flexible and can be applied in focus groups and surveys as well as general interviews.

The disadvantages of the method are

  • CIT is dependent on human memory; Therefore, if a participant forgets a part of the Incident or interprets it in the wrong way, the process can get stressful and time-consuming.
  • Most often, participants give details of monumental events but forget to mention smaller intricate details.
  • It is up to the researcher to decide whether or not to use CIT based on the process’s goal. He can also use other tools like usability test if that caters more to his needs.

How to ask the right questions

The steps that can be followed for asking the right questions are:

  1. Looking for the right person (preferably an expert) from the particular department.

Example of the question to the expert: If a new person for the role of Manager is being hired, what roles would he be expected to fulfill or how many hours would he be expected to work a day?

Then there are questions which are built specifically for a particular situation. The example of questions concerning the event that happened could be like:

  • Where did it occur?
  • How did it occur?
  • What was done after it happened?

2. Ask for the solution like what works, what does not work, and what might be useful for future situations. This helps in understanding what should be done and what should not be done.

3. Repeat the same steps with other divisional heads to evaluate whether or not the desired result is achieved. If the same method is applied for various heads, different perspectives on the same work are found.

4. Evaluate the situations and make questions out of them and the examples to analyze the behavior.

  • Good answers
  • Mediocre answers
  • Bad answers

More information about Critical Incident Technique

Critical Incident Technique Steps

The steps of the Critical Incident Technique are as follows:

  1. The situation is reviewed and has to be analyzed.
  2. Collect the facts from the incidents for analysis.
  3. Analyze the data that has been collected.
  4. The results are determined.
  5. Evaluate the results.
Critical Incident Technique Steps

Example of Critical Incident Technique

If for example Critical Incident Technique was used to find information about a particular job it would be like: the information about the job is taken by various ways like questionnaires. These surveys can be used for market research.

The participant is asked about his feeling and perspectives of the Incident. The actions were taken during the situation, how the activities altered the situation and what can be done to better it. He is asked about the description of the roles that the job entails. He is intricately asked about details.

The little information that might be missed by tools like user interviews can be extracted by Critical Incident Technique. The job description is evaluated when the participant describes various incidents and his feelings towards those incidents. Usually, more than one participant is used to see different perspectives of the same situation.

FAQ for Critical Incident Method

What is a critical incident method in a personal appraisal?

Critical incident method in the personal appraisal is a tool used to measure the performance of the employee in many mobile app development companies and other too. The performances can be outstanding, or they can be asked to be made better.

What is a Critical Incident?

Critical Incident can be defined as the exact moment when the Incident happens and its effectiveness.

When was the Critical Incident Method used, and for what purpose?

Critical Incident Method was developed in 1954 to aid the US Air Force Pilots during World War 2 to understand why certain pilots were selected, classified, and evaluated.

What is an example of a Critical Incident?

Critical Incident Technique can be used to find the description of a job. The participant who works on the job is asked questions by the researcher and his perspectives and feelings about particular incidents to evaluate the position.

How do you use the critical incident technique?

Critical Incident Technique is used by finding experts, asking them the right questions about a particular incident, asking them questions about their feelings towards the Incident, and repeat the steps.

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Bluein Christian

Content Writer with experience of 6+ years. Have experience writing content for different industries, such as travel, education, fashion, and more. A creative person by birth and by profession. She loves learning new concepts and creating useful content about them. She loves traveling and is always up for new challenges.


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