Monday, March 30, 2009

What to ask your ethnographer

I wanted to share an article Ethan Whitehill recently posted on the Ethnography Forum via LinkedIn, answering some questions many in the business world have been asking:

1) How do you know if ethnography is the right approach for your research?
2) How do you know whether you have the right ethnographer?

I thought you might find the featured article in this months Alert! Magazine interesting and wanted to pass it along. In “Ethnography: How to know if it’s right for your study...” Two West Inc.’s Chief Anthropologist Gavin Johnston and Melinda Rea-Holloway address the issues many market researchers face when deciding whether ethnography is the best approach to solve a business problem.
In the same article by Johnston et al, I found this succinct list of 9 questions/answers to ask an Ethnographer if you're looking to bring one onto a project. Indeed, ethnography is very much about one's training/practice/judgment and having the package to make good research decisions based on such.

Nine Questions (and Answers) to Ask an Ethnographer

The following are a number of questions every ethnographer should be able to answer.

1. Is my project a good fit for ethnography?
Your ethnographic provider should be able to determine whether ethnography is a good fit based on your business objectives, timeline and budget.

2. What methods are utilized during ethnographic fieldwork?
Ethnographers utilize a combination of multiple methodologies, but should always mention participant observation and inductive interviews.

3. How long do ethnographic projects take to complete?
It depends on the scope of your project, but a really fast ethnography will take a few months. If a provider tells you otherwise, they aren’t doing ethnography.

4. Do ethnographers have a discussion guide like focus group moderators?

Yes, however each ethnographer has a different style of inquiry, and will not repeat verbatim what is in the field guide.

5. What is the ethnographic analysis process?
Ethnographers should be able to explain their analytical process and this description should include a reference to social and cultural theory.

6. What is the difference between videography and ethnography?
Videography is story-telling through video. Videography may capture the moment, but lacks the rigor of structured research.

7. What qualifications should ethnographic fieldworkers have?
They should have an advanced degree in a social science discipline, such as anthropology or sociology. They should also have a wide range of field experiences.

8. How do ethnographers learn ethnography?
They learn the basics of ethnography in graduate school and through hands-on experiences in the field. To become a practitioner requires understanding of social science theory, research methods and research design.

9. How can I be sure I can use the results from ethnographic research?
A good ethnographer will work with you to plan a research project that is designed around your business objective. Therefore, sampling, data collection and data analysis will all be guided by the end goal. A good ethnographer understands the difference between interesting and actionable findings.

Gavin Johnston is the chief anthropologist of Two West Discovery & Design
Melinda Rea-Holloway is the CEO and founder of Ethnographic Research, Inc.

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