We have all encountered Subject Matter Experts who are less than helpful or less than expert. There are a couple of ways to deal with SMEs who might prove difficult.
One method I have found is to provide them with an overview of the instructional design process before you start asking them questions. Often times they will have no idea about the process and be a little uncertain as to what it is that you are trying to do. “Why are you asking me so many ‘dumb’ questions?” Or “Are you trying to take my job away?” Or “Are you trying to see where I make mistakes”
Also, do not always speak with the veteran SME--the person who has been on the job for years and years. Often, it makes more sense to speak with the newer employee—the person struggling to do the job. He or she will know what they don’t know and be keenly aware of the shortcomings of any learning event they participated.
If a one-on-one isn’t working the SME, try a focus group. Sometimes having several people discussing a process is more helpful than just trying to get one person’s view on a particular issue. Plus, getting a focus group means that for a period of time you will have the undivided attention of the people from whom you are trying to gather information. You don't always get the undivided attention of a single SME as he or she is probably struggling to get their "regular" work done.
Finally, make sure you ask Clarity Questions, Precision Questions and Depth Questions for each area of content you are trying to understand.
- Could you elaborate further?
- Could you give me an example?
- Could you illustrate what you mean? (yes sometimes having them draw or sketch a process is extremely helpful)
- Could you be more specific?
- Could you give me more details?
- Could you be more exact?
- What factors make this a difficult task/procedure to perform?
- What are some of the complexities of this task requiring special attention?
- What are some difficulties an employee encounters when performing this task/process/procedure?