Ethnography in Odd Places at UXPA 2013


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Carol Smith and Thyra Rauch spoke about conducting ethnographic research in situations and locations that are challenging for the research.

Conducting good research always requires careful planning and an ability to adapt quickly to changing situations. However, when your research is being conducted in less-than-perfect conditions, much more planning needs to occur. The presenters will share personal experiences of conducting research in odd places and tips for dealing with the challenges that can crop up.

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  • Be a Girl Scout – always prepared!
  • It was a very cold (and early) morning.I had not experienced racingpreviously. Before heading to the race track there was a lot of physical preparation. I needed to determine what to wear to keep warm for a full day of outdoor observations while being able to carry what Ineeded (recording equipment, note taking equipment, phone, etc.), keep it accessible and dry.Upon arriving, it became clear that recording would be another challenge during races because the noise was deafening at points. Most of the work that needed to be conducted would be in the infield area, but there was no obvious organization and the area was large. Luckily, the racers were very friendly and I was able to take my time observing various individuals and most of the recordings turned out well.
  • Gear – protection from head to toeHard hat (construction sites, mines, some manufacturing)Ear protection – throw it in your bag – always helpfulEye protection (construction sites, mines, manufacturing, warehouses, etc.)Foot protection – fiberglass toes are best. These can be helpful even when just mowing the yard
  • Alignment in the field
  • Temperatures can changeMicro-climates are common (snow in AZ, cold in San Francisco)Precipitation can weak havoc on equipment and your state of mindResults can be messy – dress accordingly
  • Don’t make yourself at homeNo bio breaks in the homeResist offers of food/drinkCan lead to expectations of reciprocity
  • Allergic reactions (yours and theirs)Kids – showing you all manner of thingsBe PoliteDon’t be alone with children (ever!)Clutter – hoarders are more common than you might think. Some are “clean” and some are nasty. Do what you can to document without overly embarrassing the participant (e.g. don’t ask “what are you going to do with all this stuff?”
  • Two hour tours of facilities, walking on cement in new boots is exhausting
  • AirplanesHospitals - HIPPA
  • --> Was at a customer site to observe some help desk operations and was just amazed how they heard or communicated anything with each other as the noise level was just incredible (needless to say, recording that session was out)
  • Carol’s Story (to be printed in Moderation Book)Contracting to a large company in a big suburban office park. Driving in, everything had seemed ok despite the bad weather, But as I came into the building I noticed that the lights seemed dimmer than normal. I hurried to the testing lab and when I got there found that the lights were not working. Luckily there was a lot of natural light from large windows across one side of the room. It was too late to contact participants as this was a relatively large city and participants were most likely in route and were to arrive fairly soon.Luckily all of the consent forms and other supporting documentation were ready to go. The study was to test a clickable prototype on a desktop computer running Morae. Someone had either planned for such an instance or we got very lucky as the testing machines were all plugged into outlets connected to the back-up power generator. As participants arrived, I explained the situation to them and told them that if it made them uncomfortable we could try to reschedule. I was especially concerned because I needed to walk them down a very dark hallway prior to entering the testing room. I cannot think of a more stressful way to enter a study if the dark makes you nervous.This situation only affected a few participants and they were very understanding. I was careful to make sure the participants felt safe before beginning each session. By the third participant that day the power came back on and I continued the study without further issues. Having the necessary documents prepared ahead of time was a lifesaver. As much as possible I try to continue to plan for each day’s testing the day before. Regardless, it was pleasantly surprising how much we could do without electricity!
  • Arrived at a customer site to observe an install just after a major virus had hit and things were in chaos  (whoops!  plans change) --> Was at a customer site to do some observations and ended up following the key person from building to building all over the "campus" and trying to record things as I went and interactions were happening along the way (supposed to be sitting in an office)
  • The two international "incidents" I've had was one with a European customer -- was supposed to do a site visit and observe, and ended up in a meeting room with the execs telling me how things should be done. Themulti-day installation story : went to see a customer install a piece of software. Not only did it take days, but NOTHING was happening during the install time while the machine churned away with no feedback nor progress indication. Needless to say, I had a LOT of time to do other things while we “waited”.
  • Two researchers were doing a ride-along with a retired woman on a dreary early spring morning. It was chilly but the rain had stopped and the conditions were improving.Regardless of that, the participant kept her windshield wipers on for the entire time and put the heat on.There came a point where I literally was concerned for my health. I assumed my colleague in the back seat was slightly better off, but I didn’t realize that she was beyond car-sick at this point and suffered silently.I stopped the interview and asked the driver if she minded if I closed the vents (hoping she would take the hint). Luckily she did and shut off the heat.We were very happy when we arrived at the next stop.I generally try to never concern others with my personal comfort when I’m interviewing them, but this was one of those situations where I needed to act outside of the concerns of the study.
  • Taco holder driving stick shift
  • And, also in Europe while doing small sessions in conjunction with a customer conference, I was naively pressing the European and Asian audience to "get up and participate" to give feedback on personas, critical tasks and needed functions, and they kept looking at me like I had 3 holes in my head. (Didn't think to find out that "audience participation" was not exactly expected there.) Even worse, English was 2nd language at best. Amazingly enough, they did participate finally after I demonstrated what I wanted them to do, and got really good feedback. But, I learned that boning up on the different cultures and expectations is important.
  • People change. Even if you had planned to meet with one person, a personnel change may have occurred. That new person may give you a different opportunity to observe and interview someone in the process of learning.Conditions change: e.g, may be way noisier than expected and recordings may not work wellOpportunities: eg. Virus attack and being able to observe an unplanned situationYou should always be prepared for your own comfort and needs. I have had expected “Lunch hours” run up to 2 hours later than planned or people that never seemed to stop for a break. Speak up nicely.
  • Ethnography in Odd Places at UXPA 2013

    1. 1. Ethnography in Odd Places Carol Smith and Thyra Rauch UXPA 2013
    2. 2. Be Present • Go where they are • Inherent challenges – Space – Time – Conditions
    3. 3. Some rights reserved by Rocky VI - License: Preparation
    4. 4. Knowledge is Power • Who you are meeting • What gear to bring • Where - logistics to get there • Logistics to next location – allow time • Do a walk/map through • Plan for bio breaks
    5. 5. Gear To Bring • Pockets • Pens and notepad • Recording Equipment • Water, Clif Bar (crushable) • Wallet (with cash) • Extension cords, extra batteries, etc.
    6. 6. Pockets • Breathable travel vest • Easy access to: – Small gear – Two pens – Small notepad – Water bottle, snack • Ability to be hands free – Climbing – Gear protection ScottVest -
    7. 7. Case Study: Race Track
    8. 8. High Quality Personal Protection Fiberglass – lightweight & not affected by temp Toe, Ankle and Dirt Protection
    9. 9. Adapt and be Open to Experience
    10. 10. Outdoor Observations • Dress for comfort
    11. 11. In their home… Don’t make yourself at Home
    12. 12. Kids, Pets, Chaos • Prepare for the unexpected • Allergic reactions • Kids • Clutter and cleanliness
    13. 13. Physically Active Participants • Keep up! – Be prepared for the length of the study • Sound considerations – Stay mobile with small technology – Get close to participant without being too close
    14. 14. Public Spaces • Everyone may feel compromised • Be aware – Create/find smaller spaces – Speak quietly if possible awqfuc-eyifAV-8M8tpm-7N1DPb-ciG1K9-dsxcY9-9WAQhy-88ENpV-aDQndx-avV5GZ-8jHtix-aAGD5M-as9pmp-ebCh5H-c8K8Wj-89kvjU-7TmgvL/ Some rights reserved by Slices of Light: License:
    15. 15. Etiquette Meets Research • Technical tradeshow • Dinner • Spontaneous research
    16. 16. Breath … then React
    17. 17. Interruptions • Allow reasonable ones (phone, bio, etc.) • Incessant external or nearby noises • Pets, kids, etc. • Case Study: Help desk and noise level • Consider rescheduling/cancelling
    18. 18. The Show Must Go On • Loss of power, or no power – Paper printouts – Battery power (limited) – back-up power generator • No connectivity – Phone tether – Offline solution
    19. 19. Prepare for the Unexpected • A virus attack. Whoops! Plans change • Observations mobile instead of in an office
    20. 20. Non-Observations • Work has been planned out “just for you” • Case Study 1: – Planned: a site visit and observation of workers. – Actual: a meeting room with execs “explaining things”. • Case Study 2: Multi-day installation
    22. 22. Precautions • Participant behavior – Ride alongs – Paying attention to work – Equipment • Environmental situations – Manufacturing – Animals
    23. 23. When It Doesn’t Go as Planned… • Case Study 1: – Planned: European conference with small participatory sessions – Actual: “Audience participation” not typical. • Case Study 2: – Planned: Ethnographic research with users – Actual: Not allowed to speak with users or even observe them
    24. 24. Upcoming Experiences • Where are you going? • What are your plans/questions?
    25. 25. Summary • Be flexible and adapt – People – Conditions • Be open to opportunities – Unexpected situations • Go light and portable • Never miss an opportunity for – Food – Water – Bio-break
    26. 26. Contact Us • Thyra Rauch • IBM • • +1 (408) 463-2465 • Carol Smith • Goodyear • • +1 (773) 218-6568