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Annual Conference Reporter on the Scene: Digital and Human — Not Mutually Exclusive

Posted By Michaela Mora, Relevant Insights, LLC, Thursday, July 16, 2020

Annual Conference Reporter on the Scene: Digital and Human — Not Mutually Exclusive

Presenter: Jennifer Cuthill, Clearworks

Summary of Conference Session

Digital ethnography is observational research that's done through self-reported events or responses by people in your study that they then upload to a digital platform. Engaging exercises, experienced recruiters and a platform with features that support the research objectives are needed to successfully conduct digital ethnography.

Key Session Takeaways

Digital ethnography allows us to capture behaviors at times when in-person observation may not be possible (e.g. odd hours into the night, very private spaces such as a bathroom or bedroom, or sensitive topics). Instead of a discussion guide, digital ethnography is driven by a set of exercises with specific objectives in mind.

If you have used online bulletin boards, you will find similarities with this approach. However, there are some differences, mainly about when we give access to the exercises to participants and the absence of activity dependencies.

In digital ethnography, all exercises are made available to participants at once. They are not scheduled on certain days as is standard in online bulletin boards. Participants do the exercises at their own pace. The goal is to capture certain occasions when we don’t know what they are and when they will happen. Exercises are independent activities that don't need to be completed in any particular order.

To be successful in digital ethnography, Cuthill recommends:

  1. Carefully design exercises that elicit the right insights: Create engaging exercises but limit their number (3 to 5) and the questions associated with them. Too many can overwhelm participants and increase mid-study drop rates.
  2. Work with recruiters who can support the project to ensure compliance: Recruiters need to go beyond recruiting participants and provide follow-up services to make sure participants complete the assigned exercises and answer the questions.
  3. Start the analysis and gathering of reporting artifacts when the fieldwork starts: Don't wait until the end to start looking at the data for analysis and reporting. Streamline the process by monitoring results from the beginning and gathering artifacts to support reporting.
  4. Combine this approach with other qualitative research methods, such as IDIs and focus groups, if the limited number of exercises and questions don't allow you to cover all the research objectives.
  5. Choose a platform with the right features for your research objectives.

When choosing a platform for digital ethnography we should consider:

  • Types of exercises and questions the platform supports (e.g. diary/journal, ad/concept testing, community ideation, surveys/polls, live chats, discussion boards) for the research objectives.
  • Types of responses it captures (e.g. text, video, pictures, screen capture).
  • Level of support offered.
  • User experience/design.
  • Devices supported.
  • Pricing and what’s included.

Digital ethnography can be a more cost-effective option than in-person observation, assuming you work with experienced recruiters and streamline the reporting process. Cost also depends on the number of participants and the platform used. Incentives are comparable with in-person observation studies. However, you may need to add more to ensure compliance.

This approach can be used to gather insights needed in the exploratory phase that often precedes many of the quantitative research projects we do related to new product development, pricing research, and market segmentation.

Aha Moment

A big aha moment was realizing we need to find engaged and experienced recruiters to ensure participant compliance. This can really lighten the burden of the research team and give them time to focus on the observation work.

Final Comments

Digital ethnography is an interesting and viable alternative to in-person observation when the latter is not feasible due to the research topic nature, cost, and timing concerns.

A person wearing glasses and smiling at the camera Description automatically generated

QRCA Reporter on the Scene: Michaela Mora, Relevant Insights, LLC

Tags:  Digital Ethnography  Ethnography  Observational research  QRCA Annual Conference  QRCA Reporter on the Scene  Research Methodologies 

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Annual Conference Reporter on the Scene: Autoethnography: Real Human Real Quick

Posted By Amye Parker, Thursday, February 20, 2020

Annual Conference Reporter on the Scene: Autoethnography: Real Human Real Quick

Presenters: Jenny Karubian, Ready to Launch ResearchScott Koenig, MRXology

Summary

Jenny and Scott’s session was delivered to a packed room at the 2020 QRCA Annual Conference, starting with a warm welcome and quick poll: nearly everyone present currently conducts ethnographies, but only a handful of audience members were familiar with autoethnography. Which sparked an obvious need for a definition.

Autoethnography allows the research participant to also be the researcher, by describing and evaluating cultural experiences, analyzing their stories and engaging with the meaning and emotion in their experiences. Journaling is an oft-used qualitative method and, while like autoethnography, Jenny and Scott highlighted the key differences between the two methods.

They described journaling as more about recording, while autoethnography is about reflection; journaling often captures daily activities, behavioral patterns and functional responses, while autoethnography yields results about the broader cultural context and responses may draw from a longer period of time (e.g. reflecting back to childhood). Another key difference is autoethnography’s encouragement for participants to draw commonalities and conclusions from the other participants involved in the study.

Key Session Takeaways

The topic of autoethnography drew a large crowd of people with little to no experience with the method, indicating a strong interest among researchers to continually evolve our toolbox as researchers. Jenny and Scott did a great job bringing the method to life through their case study, and I especially liked the example autoethnography questions. Their practical checklists and comparison tables demonstrated how elements of autoethnography could easily be applied to the online qualitative research that many quallies are already conducting.

Aha Moment

During the session, Jenny and Scott brought autoethnography to life through sharing the results of a recent case study. Seeing autoethnography in action helped highlight how I could utilize this tool in my own practice! This was especially evident when we saw the results of a comparison in journaling responses and autoethnography responses, with autoethnography participants providing more emotion, nostalgia, and long-form answers to the online questions. 

Final Comments and Takeaways

The session ended with a lengthy Q&A session, with at least 15 different questions being asked by the audience…the sign of a truly engaging presentation! Key discussions were about recruitment and what screener questions were needed to ensure autoethnography participants had quality writing skills and the ability to reflect/draw meaningful insights from their own stories. Thank you, Scott and Jenny, for an informative session!

 

QRCA Reporter on the Scene: Amye Parker, Jackman Reinvents

 

Tags:  ethnography  QRCA Annual Conference  QRCA Reporter on the Scene  Research Methodologies 

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When Ethnography Becomes a Joke

Posted By Patricia Sunderland, Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, April 2, 2019
When Ethnography Becomes a Joke

Joke Ethnography

It may or may not be news for readers of this blog — but for at least some clients, ethnography has turned into a joke.

For a number of years, we have witnessed a diminishing appetite for ethnographic work among commercial clients. Competition and challenges from new methodologies are understandable and to be expected. Yet an undercurrent of “we do not want to do ethnography because we tried it and we did not get anything out of it” has been unsettling. More troubling, a few months ago a client put it more bluntly: “No. Ethnography no way. It’s a joke around here when you mention it.”

Ugh. How could the methodology that I learned as an anthropologist and built my career around in the world of qualitative research have become a joke? And even more importantly, what must we do to retrieve ethnography from that dustbin of bad jokes?

Rejuvenate the Basics

Without simply sounding a conservative cry, one thing we must do is go back and ensure that we always deliver on the basics of solid ethnographic work. Ethnographic work seems to have been undergoing a process of lightening in which observation alone, a person alone, or even the word alone will suffice.

Observation and Conversation

Ethnographic fieldwork– as imagined and pioneered by founders such as Bronislaw Malinowski – was never simply about observation. The observational component was coupled with participation, as in participant observation, as well as linked with conversation, interviews, and quite simply put, talk. Observation without any window into what is going on in a person’s mind and heart while they are doing whatever they are doing is anemic at best. Frequently it is also off-base. A key to comprehension in ethnography, as in much qualitative work, is understanding a person’s point of view.

In January 2019, Rachael Lawes provided an outstanding webinar, “Honing Your Ethnographic Eye”. Drawing from discourse analysis, one of the key points of her presentation was the importance of attending to defensively designed statements in speech, for instance, when a person frames what they are saying as “simply stating a fact.” A pre-emptive defense such as this may indicate that the person may feel insecure about the point they are making and/or they may feel that others are likely to argue with what they are saying. Obviously, it is important that we listen – carefully – and not only observe.

Persons and Contexts

Also, while it is an ethnographic basic to understand a person’s point of view, the assumption is not that a person stands alone. When we do our ethnographic work, one of the strengths we can bring to the qualitative research table is to situate a person’s viewpoints and behaviors within a macro-societal as well as meso-social context. This can mean that rather than just studying the person, our unit of ethnographic analysis can and should be the household, the friendship group, the workplace, the family, and/or any social grouping that makes sense for the question and issue at hand.

Injecting Serious Analytic Soul

Beyond being sure to include both conversation and context as part of our ethnographic research, injecting serious analytic soul into the work is also definitely on order. One factor that seems to have fueled the jokes about ethnographic work is the handoff of ethnographic work to junior and client DIY teams. Unfortunately, what can and often does go missing in this handoff is the analytic component.

In much current commercial ethnography, it is almost as if the importance of the analysis has been forgotten. There is a tendency to take ethnographic work as if it is a case of “what you see is what you get.” But, of course, what one sees is filtered by the mind. And while ethnographers must strive for an open mind in order to grasp the point of view of others, they also bring every bit of experience, theory, and knowledge to their encounters and their own mental processing of the data.

For instance, a number of years ago, colleague Rita Denny and I worked on a new product study centered around home organization. The company’s goal was to develop new home storage products. As I observed and talked with people about how they organized items in their homes, it became obvious that spatial orientation (e.g., up versus down; vertical vs. horizontal) was providing critical cues. Items that were “up” were considered more organized than those that were “down.” Items that were vertical were considered ready to use; horizontal or flat signaled “in use.” Items that got stacked were packed. The photos below help illustrate the point.

vertical hanging
Vertical hanging on the door – an organized way to keep items that were ready to be taken out of the home.
vertical hanging
Vertical files keep papers ready as a resource and what must be done next is kept in front.
vertical hanging
A briefcase kept up off the floor seen as neater and more organized than if on the floor. Also kept in vertical orientation.

laying flat

laying flat
Lying flat is a signal of “in use” as with a book lying flat on a surface next to the bed (vs. vertical on a shelf, which is “ready for use”). But flat also often leads to “stacked,” which then quickly leads to “packed.”

 

This spatial insight would not have been as possible without the benefit dof having once read Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By. Lakoff and Johnson examined the way linguistic metaphors organize the way we think about and experience the world. Good moods, for example, tend to be described as “up” and bad moods in terms of “down.” And for the purposes of this example, think about the phrases “picking up” and “cleaning up.”

We need to be ready to bring our analytic minds to the table as we perform ethnography. This is the real value of doing ethnography in business. When we make analysis central to the task, we are able to deliver serious and often breakthrough results. Inductive analytic insight provides ethnography its serious point of differentiation versus other methodologies. Analysis with attention to language and the larger social world (not only observation and the individual) has the power to move ethnography far beyond the realm of jokes.

Patricia Sunderland, PhDPatricia Sunderland, PhD

Patricia Sunderland, PhD, is founder of Cultural Research and Analysis, Inc.. A specialist in the ethnographic, cultural and semiotic analysis of consumer worlds, Patti is also co-author and co-editor of two award-winning books in anthropology and commerce: Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research and the Handbook of Anthropology in Business. She splits her time between New York City and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Tags:  Ethnography  QRCA Digest  Qualitative Research  Research Methodologies 

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Minimize the Unpredictable: 3 Tips for Great Ethnos

Posted By Rob Volpe, Ignite 360, Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2019
QRCA 2018 Conference Attendees

“Expect the unexpected” is what I recently said to a client who was about to embark on her first in-home ethnography visit. Out in the real world, away from controlled environs like a facility or online platform, almost anything can happen. That’s the beauty of ethnography. You get to see life as it’s really lived instead of having it explained to you. It’s also the challenge of ethnographies. Like life, an ethnographic project can be unpredictable. While that appeals to some personality types, it doesn’t sit well with everyone, especially clients who don’t do ethnos very often.

Here are 3 ethnographic tips to transform the unpredictable into a certainty:

  1. Pre Field Work Final Prep- QRCA Get to Know Your Participants Ahead of Time – If you think it’s daunting walking into a stranger’s home, try having a group of 4-5 strangers over to your house to “put you under the microscope.” To help respondents feel more at ease, make sure they are a great fit with your recruiting criteria. To help advance the conversation upon arrival, get to know the participants before you visit them.

    This orientation can be completed through “screendowns”—phone or video calls with potential respondents recruited by the field house but not yet booked.  That conversation allows you to verify and validate what was said in the recruit as well as their comfort engaging in conversation. Or you can engage participants in an online or video activity prior to fielding and use that to help select your final participants. Both approaches enable you to get to know the respondent and, just as importantly, they get to know you. When I walk into a respondent’s home and I’m able to mention the names of my colleagues who have talked to them, I always see a glimmer of recognition and the respondent starts to relax as they’ve already made a connection with us through these earlier interactions.

    While these steps add time and dollars to the budget, they help to lower the risk that a session will be a dud. In a focus group or online community with numerous respondents, you can get beyond a quiet respondent or one or two recruits that aren’t quite the right fit. In an ethno, each respondent is the “star” of their own show. If they aren’t spot on and comfortable, it will be a loooooong session that your clients have paid a lot of money to sit through. It’s time you won’t get back, but your clients might ask for their money back. 

  2. QRCA Clients in the Field Prep Your Clients on What to Expect – If clients are joining you in the field (and hopefully they are), help them understand what it’s going to be like. Remember, your clients don’t do ethnos as often as you do. It’s even more important when you have an extended client team joining you in the field.

    We put together pre-field briefing calls and documents explaining what to expect. It aligns everyone and answers the questions they have, big and small. Can they ask questions? What should they do during the session (see tip #3 below)? Can they use the bathroom in a respondent’s house? What should they wear? When will they eat? Can they use their phone?

    The briefing is also the best time to make sure everyone is aligned on the key questions, flow of the conversation, and other points you want to make. At our company we coach clients on the 5 Steps to Building and Applying Empathy. That little bit of coaching can make a big difference in how they engage and ultimately absorb what they experience.

    The risk of not doing this? A big, disorganized mess when you get into the session. Uncomfortable clients will make the respondent uncomfortable and will lead to an unproductive session.

  3. Put Your Clients to Work for You– Ethnographies are a juggling act. Yes, you are moderating, but you are also doing things like taking notes and pictures. If clients are with you, have them help you out. Give them notebooks and ask them to take notes on their observations and what they hear. Those come in handy during debriefs in the car right after the session. You can even incorporate them into your analysis.

    Need pictures from the session? Designate one of your client attendees as the official photographer. Give them direction on what pictures you need (a nice face pic of the respondent for sure). Think ahead about what other images you might need for your report. How might images from the in-home visit help advance the story you will tell? When we have clients take pictures, we try to set a minimum — maybe 30 — so they realize they should take a lot of pictures, not just one or two. You may end up with 18… but it’s a lot better than none.

    Engaging the clients empowers them; they’re immediately more invested and at ease, which helps them get more out of the session. And it reduces your own cognitive load so you can focus on what you are really there to do – moderate the best conversation possible!

It’s unrealistic to try to solve for every variable that could possibly come up on an in-home.  I was in the middle of an in-home during the East Coast earthquake in 2011. You can’t plan for that, but you can give your clients tips on what to do to keep themselves safe. The more you make an investment upfront, the better prepared you’ll be to fully engage and get the most out of each session as the moderator.

What tips do you have for a better ethno? What challenges do you have with ethnos that you’d like to resolve? Ask away!

Rob Volpe By: Rob Volpe

Rob Volpe is CEO and Chief Catalyst of Ignite 360, an insights and strategy firm. When he’s not traveling the globe in search of the answer to the question “why,” he’s at work on his first book, Everyday Americans, his journey to understanding empathy told through his adventures in ethnography.


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Tags:  ethnography  QRCA Digest  qualitative research 

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