Ethnographic Research Ethnography is a type of social science research that investigates the practices and life of a community, by becoming one of its members. It is based on learning about a context and the people living in it, by understanding their values, needs and vocabulary. It requires faithful reporting of what is experienced or observed, avoiding any interpretation or evaluation as far as possible.
Within the field of experience design, ethnography or video ethnography are methods used to capture human ehaviour in the context of the person’s natural environment, as a means of gaining insights about people’s behaviours and unarticulated motivations, drivers, needs, in order to create innovative solutions. Design ethnography helps answer questions like what is necessary to innovate with success; what are the key social actors and roles to take into account; and which are the limiting factors? Educated observation and participation are the main methods that enable our team to understand user requirements and context of use.
Two examples of the ethnographic design pproach are shadowing and self-observations. Shadowing is an ethnographic technique to understand a person’s real-time interactions with products, services or process and their shifting contexts and needs over the course of a day. Shadowing often focuses on particular events or tasks participants are willing to share. Talk Aloud and closure interviews are used to clarify questions. Self-observations/ Diaries is a method used when it is difficult or impossible to directly access a certain place (like people’s homes) or access is too time consuming.
It consists of asking eople to provide self-observations about their activities in the form of log reports or diaries, for example. Although this method involves the subjectivity of the participants in the data collected, it can be valuable to get a glimpse of life through the eyes of the people that are being studied. How ethnographic research works Ethnographic research relies on techniques such as observation, video diaries, photographs, contextual interviews, and analysis of artifacts such as for example devices, tools or paper forms that might be used as part of a person’s Job.
Observations can be made at home, at work, or in leisure environments. People can be studied with their family, on their own, with work colleagues, or as part of a group of friends. Often one participant may be recruited, but several more may be studied as part of that person’s family or friends. Data collection can range from a 4-5 hour contextual interview, through to following a participant for several days, or even a longitudinal study over several weeks or months to investigate, for example, how a particular product or service might be used over time.
It doesn’t necessarily involve full immersion’ in a person’s life: it can involve a depth interview in a person’s home or it might involve a person simply maintaining their own video diary over a period of time. Where and how you might use it Ethnographic research can provide extremely rich insight into ‘real life’ behavior, and can be used to identify new or currently unmet user needs. This approach is most valuable at the beginning of a project when there is a need to understand real end particular audience. When not to use
Ethnographic research can provide a significant amount of qualitative data, and analysis can be time consuming. NOTE: The term ‘ethnographic’ can be misused; it’s currently a bit of a ‘buzzword’ with some agencies who may not fully understand the approach. It is recommended that a specialist agency is used, who can demonstrate successful case studies (collecting and analyzing the data). Participants In principle, anyone could participate in this type of research. As with any user research, the recruitment of suitable participants is key.
The full implications of the research should be fully explained to potential participants, as some may not feel comfortable with this level of intrusion in their lives. Timescales Depending on the study needs and the approach, but 6-8 weeks from briefing to results can provide rich insight. It may take time to build trust with participants, and the analysis period needs to be sufficient to be thorough. Ethnographic research can be expensive and time consuming, but this depends on the needs of a particular project. The benefits derived can be extremely valuable.