Thursday, November 06, 2008

What is ethnography and how does it aid customer understanding?

Defining and applying ethnogriaphy ...

"Ethnography may differ from what is traditionally regarded as 'normal' ressearch, but it is far from the dark art that it is sometimes perceived as. Indeed, it's high time to dispel some of the myths that have sprung up around ethnography so that organisations can understand its true nature.

The first myth to dispel is that ethnography is not a method; it is a research approach that uses a wide selection of methods:

* Secondary and semiotic analyses - understanding the systems behind all the things that you ‘just know’.
* Informal observation – used as a ‘first pass’ research tool, to generate questions, focus issues or confirm choice of venue or target audience.
* Formal observation – expert researchers in the natural, day-to-day setting, observing what people do, how they interact, the kinds of things they use, etc.
* Interviews – in-context, narrative interviews, which try to elicit the participant’s view of the world.
* Self-documentation – where the participant is given the tools and structure, and then records their own critical and open-ended self-reporting, logging the things that they see as most important to the question, rather than being led in any way.
* Groups & events.

It does not aim to study people, but instead uses the techniques above to observe people in order to examine every day experiences, situations, environments, activities, relations, interactions and processes in very rich detail.

How is ethnography different to ‘normal’ research?

Although ethnography encompasses a whole range of techniques, they all share two common principles:

1. They are always ‘in context’. The ethnographer doesn’t bring the research subjects or participants into an artificial environment, such as interviewing facilities. They carry out the research in the participant’s own home, office, regular shopping places – the day-to-day places in which the participant would naturally carry out the activity under survey. This eliminates any unusual influence on the participant due to unnatural surroundings, leading to a more natural and unforced, and therefore accurate, research experience.

2. The participants are seen as the experts. Ethnographic data gathering is often determinedly open-ended, using both theoretical and practical tools, to let what anthropologists call the 'native point of view' emerge.

Despite often being perceived as a bit of a black art, ethnography is rooted in the disciplined treatment of data. By far the most important part of ‘doing ethnography’ is the rigorous analysis of all the data gathered and interpretation of key data patterns. The participants are experts on their own experiences and the ethnographers are experts at translating those experiences into a descriptive and analytic account that clarifies business issues and reveals the cultural basis for consumer experiences. The goal is to produce a consistent body of data that can have utility beyond the study’s original scope."    (Continued via, Simon Pulman-Jones, Usability News)    [Usability Resources]


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