By Erin Agidius, J.D., Consultant, TNG Consulting, LLC
Recording and transcribing interviews can provide meaningful value to investigators and Title IX Coordinators – if you plan and prepare properly. Some practitioners swear by recording, and others swear at it. Rather than taking a position on whether you should record/transcribe, this Tip of the Week discusses both pros and cons and how to maximize the effectiveness of recording/transcribing if you choose to do so. Whether you are a seasoned pro or just beginning to explore the idea of recording and transcribing interviews, these tips will set you up for success.
Let’s evaluate the pros and cons of recording and transcribing interviews.
Time: Recording and transcribing interviews could save time and increase efficiency. Have you ever calculated how long it takes to summarize an hour-long interview? For example, an average of one page of raw notes translates to approximately 25 to 30 minutes of “clean up” (e.g., formatting, coherency, corrections, etc.) editing time. Of course, transcribing a recording by hand is also a time suck, but there are shortcuts for that, discussed below.
Staffing: If you generally rely on a two-investigator model, recording interviews when short-staffed or under-staffed prevents further delays to your investigation timeline. Finding mutually agreeable times for two schedules (investigator and party/witness) is tricky, but add a third person (a second investigator or note-taker), and it can become downright difficult to align schedules. Recording provides accountability that approximates that of a two-investigator model without scheduling delays.
Accountability: If there’s a discrepancy regarding the summary or a question about the intonation or potential bias of the investigator(s), the Title IX Coordinator or appeal officer can review the recordings and decide. This could avoid a common allegation that the investigator’s notes are somehow inaccurate.
Training: Although we can continually review our recordings to learn how to ask questions better or improve our opening statements, the recordings can also serve as a training resource for other investigators to demonstrate skills and techniques, such as confronting a party or reminding an advisor of their role.
Cost Savings: Making a recording and using a transcription service can be much less expensive than assigning two investigators and far less expensive than a lawsuit.
Of course, recording and transcribing are only sometimes the answer. Otherwise, everyone would be recording, and this Tip of the Week would serve no purpose. Some drawbacks may cause you to pause when deciding whether to record and transcribe your interviews.
Time: No, you’re not seeing double. If you don’t have the financial means to pay for a transcription service, correcting an autogenerated transcript can be just as time-consuming as cleaning up typical investigator meeting notes (if not more).
Budget: Your transcript’s accuracy level may be correlated to your financial means. If you rely on free or built-in transcription services, the final product will have significantly more inaccuracies than a purchased service that includes human transcription. Though paying for human transcription services to minimize your time spent cleaning up the “final” product is likely worth it, the cost may be high. Transcription can also be frustrating if an investigation uses a lot of jargon or participants have heavy accents that may be difficult for transcriptionists to decipher.
Record Retention: Title IX has record retention requirements, but so may your institution, board, and state.  Additionally, these may vary by the status of the individuals involved (e.g., employee or student) or the type of record (e.g., personnel, investigative, or financial), adding to the complication of tracking varying file retention requirements. The requirements may not align, which means you’ll have to choose the one that is the most comprehensive. It is essential to consult with your general counsel to fully understand the implications before beginning this process, though it should be noted that the same retention requirements likely apply to interview notes, recordings, or transcriptions, so this isn’t really a con to recording, per se.
Storage Capacity: Depending upon how you choose to record, your final product may include individual audio, video, and document files. Do your systems have the storage capacity to maintain the relevant records for the seven years Title IX requires? This timeframe may be longer if you contend with other record retention requirements, especially if you do not have a system for purging those electronic records.
Technical Failures: Many of us have had this happen. We rely on a recording device, and it fails to record, or the recording is corrupted somehow. It’s frustrating and means we still take notes in addition to recording, so recording may not alleviate the need to take good notes.
HOW TO GET STARTED:
If you’ve accounted for all the pros and cons and have decided that recording and transcribing interviews is the right choice for your institution, here are some tips to help you get started.
- Be prepared. The best plan for success in recording and transcribing interviews is preparation. Think through potential challenges and plan your path. You can’t predict every barrier, but you can think through those that seem most likely:
- How will you record? Zoom, Teams, another software, app, or device?
- What challenges might you encounter if you record interviews in-person or remotely? (e.g., can a microphone capture all the voices around a table in a room versus the laptop microphone of someone interviewed remotely)? How will the transcriber know who each person is who is talking if there are many people in the room?
- Should technology fail, what is your plan? It’s often handy to have a backup technology or device at the ready.
- Practice. Before you dive into an actual interview, conduct a few trial runs. Use words commonly used in conversation that could be challenging for artificial intelligence to transcribe. Record for ten minutes to see how your recording methods handle multiple voices, accents, and words. Where are the challenges, and how do you improve your strategy? For example, you may learn that it’s best to incorporate information into your introductory talking points about how only one person should speak at a time to promote audio capture and accurate transcription.
- Get permission. While permission to record interviews may or may not be legally necessary in your state, it is certainly a best practice. You can get permission before recording and confirm it on the recording. Additionally, you can use a consent form that individuals sign before the meeting (or submit it if it’s electronic). Think through how this might work best within your existing protocols.
- Procedures. Outline an internal process or checklist for conducting recorded interviews. Consider publishing an external document that conveys that you will store recordings, and that answers some of the most likely questions.
- Review time. Regardless of whether you can afford human transcription services, you must allocate time to review the “final” product. Human transcription services still make mistakes, and nothing can replace the memory and case knowledge of the investigator present for the interview. The time needed will vary based on various factors, so be prepared to adjust.
Recording and transcribing interviews may increase your efficiency, shorten your investigation timelines, and add a layer of accuracy, accountability, and transparency to your process.
To help evaluate the options, barriers, and costs, please get in touch with email@example.com.
 34 C.F.R. § 106.45(b)(10)