What are they?
Anything where you’re watching people actually do things as opposed to asking them to tell you about things they do:
- Performed in the natural habitat / context
- Observations can cover individuals or small groups
- Require an extended length of time to allow behaviour to occur naturally; 3 hours minimum
- Typically guided rather than pure natural ethnography; mix of spontaneous behavior emergence and completion of key tasks identified as relevant to study
- Cover a number of activities in one interview, a number of contexts across the project
- Session involves a mix of questioning and pure observation: overall session structure is usually spontaneous observe, tasked observation, review of key behaviours / insights.
- Requires rigourous recruitment; only as good as the participants
- Time consuming; might have to watch someone for hours to uncover anything
- Hard to analyse; unstructured, highly intricate data set
- Complex data; plethora of macro and micro findings
- Can be unreliable / inefficient; no real guarantee you will see anything useful
- Requires discipline from the researcher; hard not to jump in.
- Great for uncovering unknown unknowns – not limited by the researchers explicit or implicit assumptions / hypotheses
- Helps define the indefinable; people often can’t articulate what they want from a service / product or experience
- Inherent passivity makes it the least susceptible to bias.
Best practice tips
- Conduct scoping interviews as part of recruitment to fully understand the specifics of the context that the user would be using the product or service
- Schedule to match reality of context
- Moderate with moderation; need to build rapport and guide the session when needed but also fade into the background for most of the time
- Don’t be afraid to normalise; Better to normalise than ignore discomfort created by a slightly unnatural situation. “I know it's a bit odd, but try and do exactly what you would do normally and forget I’m here”
- Be aware of physical space and your place in it: don't crowd
- Practice stillness
- Restrict questioning in observation portion of sessions
- But if you have to… focus on “what” questions. Save the why’s for review section
- Don’t note take; if you’re thinking about what to write and looking at a book or screen you’re not listening or watching in that moment
- Be disciplined about downloading: use analysis framework to document your findings immediately after the session.