Participant Observation Michael, Anna, Stacey, Laurisa, April
Mack, N., Woodsong, C., MacQueen, K.M., Guest, G. & Namey E. (2005). Participant Observation. In Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector's Field Guide . (pp. 13-28). Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Family Health International
Download the chapter free from: http:// www.fhi.org/en/RH/Pubs/booksReports / QRM_datacoll.htm
Participant Observation is kind of like being ….
Mixed with a little of this …
What is Participant Observation?
A qualitative method
Studies subjects in their own environment
Uses unobtrusive methods like writing observations in a field notebook
Strives to be objective and understand the subject’s point of view
Aims to be detailed and comprehensive
Methods of participant observation
Creating diagrams, charts and maps
Written, audio, photo and video recordings
Interviews and conversations
Can be done individually, in pairs, or in teams
Can occur in a structured or unstructured setting
Develop relationships with stakeholders
Engage in activities without calling attention to yourself
Always keep your research questions in mind
Do research on your subject before hand
Consider alternative forms of data
Distinguishing interpretation from observation
Example of interpretation vs. observation
Example of observation At first the client sat very stiffly on the chair next to the receptionist's desk. She (client) picked up a magazine and let the pages flutter through her fingers very quickly without really looking at any of the pages. She then set the magazine down, looked at her watch, tugged at her skirt, and picked up the magazine again. This time she didn't look at the magazine. She set it back down, took out a cigarette, and began smoking. She would watch the receptionist out of the corner of her eye, and then look back down at the magazine, and back up at the two or three other people waiting in the room. Her eyes moved from the people to the magazine to the cigarette to the people to the magazine in rapid succession. She avoided eye contact with anyone in the room. When her name was finally called by the receptionist, she jumped up like she was startled.
Ethics to consider confidentiality, consent, cultural context, disclosure
Documentation relies on memory, personal discipline, and diligence of researcher
Requires conscious effort at objectivity because method is inherently subjective
Allows for insight into contexts, relationships, behavior
Can provide information previously unknown to researchers that is crucial for project design, data collection, and interpretation of other data
Is Participant Observation the right method for me?
Some Case Study Examples
Jeong, W. (2004). Unbreakable ethnic bonds: information seeking behavior of Korean graduate students in the United States. Library and Information Science Research, 26(3), p. 384-400. Doi: 10.1016/j.lisr.2004.04.001
Tin, K. and Al-Hawamdeh, S. (2002). The changing role of paraprofessionals in the knowledge economy. Journal of Information Science, 28(4) , p. 331-343.
Gross, M., Dresang, E., and Holt, L. (2004). Children’s in-library use of computers in an urban public library. Library and Information Science Research, 26(3) , p. 311-337. Doi: 10.1016/j.lisr.2004.04.002
Chatman, E. (1986). Diffusion theory: a review and test of a conceptual model in information diffusion. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 37(6) , p. 377-386.