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Best Practices for Ethnographic Research, Lessons Learned in the Wild


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Ethnographic research can be tricky because you never know what to expect. You should do your best to prepare but remain open to change, and be flexible with your approach. My tips for success focus heavily on planning yet I’ve come to realize that there are always surprises, adaptability is crucial and sometimes the best stories come from the unexpected.
This presentation will discuss ethnographic research and how it is done in industry. Attendees will receive useful tips on conducting ethnography and the preparation and planning required, such as communicating scope with the stakeholders, and setting expectations with the team and the recruiter. Despite careful planning, surprises will occur. Multiple examples of surprises on site will be shared to illustrate best practices. We will discuss how you can learn to recognize the unusual for the unmet needs that they are and conclude with the power of impactful storytelling to share results.

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Best Practices for Ethnographic Research, Lessons Learned in the Wild

  1. 1. Best Practices for Ethnographic Research Lessons Learned in the Wild UXPA 2019 Christy Harper End to End User Research
  2. 2. @christyy41 What is it? Why do we do it? How do we do it? How to handle surprises. Other tips on site. Analysis and Presenting. UXPA 2019 Intro and Agenda 2
  3. 3. UXPA 2019 Defining Ethnography Ethnographic research is observing someone in their natural environment to understand motivations, attitudes and behaviors. 3
  4. 4. UXPA 2019 Ethnography vs. Contextual Inquiry Are they looking for ethnography, contextual inquiry, interviews? Ethnography-observing someone in their natural environment to understand motivations, attitudes and behaviors. Contextual inquiry-a semi-structured interview method to obtain information about the context of use, where users are asked a set of standard questions and then observed as they interact in their own environments. Consumer’s natural environment (home, office, retail, etc.) To get a more realistic understanding of attitudes, behaviors, motivations and needs. Analysis of data collected Interacting with the consumer What is Ethnography? Also called: observational research, fieldwork, immersion, in-home, anthropological research. 4
  5. 5. UXPA 2019 The Name Doesn’t Matter What does matter? ● You observe behavior in a natural setting ● You understand culture and context ● You learn about your participants ● You observe the environment, tools ● You understand the procedures and task flow through direct observation ● You learn the gaps in the process ● You learn about challenges or unmet needs ● You witness frustrations and delights first hand ● You understand the motivations behind behavior 5
  6. 6. UXPA 2019 Why Ethnography? Getting stakeholders on board ● Big data vs thick data ● Going deep vs going broad ● Why not surveys? ● How is this different from interviews? 6 Tricia Wang
  7. 7. UXPA 2019 Why Ethnography? ● Why do we do this type of research? ○ To design effective experiences we need to know specifically who we’re building for and what they do. ○ We do site visits, observations and interviews to see real people, in real settings, doing real work/activities, because understanding the audience is essential ○ We do a deep dive to capture the behaviors as well as the motivations behind the behaviors ○ We look for the anomalies, the work arounds and the surprises ○ We find the unexpected 7
  8. 8. It’s all in the planning
  9. 9. UXPA 2019 Planning Ahead ● Manage stakeholder expectations. ● Know what you are hoping to learn (general to specific). ● Document assumptions. ● Try to clearly spell out what you expect to happen (and why) to your main contact. ● There is a lack of understanding of what ethnography is so help frame it for them. ● Provide a sample email for the contact person to use to explain to others what is expected. ● If you are looking at a business and procedural documents exist, obtain them in advance if possible. ● Create a basic task flow from your main contact if you can. ● Allow for ample time between visits ● Don’t forget about rapport and courtesy 9
  10. 10. UXPA 2019 Assigning Roles Everyone has a job • Videographer • Photographer • Note taker • Facilitator 10 Sometimes you are everyone.
  11. 11. Tips for Researchers
  12. 12. UXPA 2019 Surprises: Barriers on Site Be prepared but be flexible ● So glad you’re here, we brought the whole team to the conference room for the ethnography. ● We know you need 1-1 time, I will bring the participants to the conference room one at a time. ● Jim, the manager will show you what the workers are supposed to do. ● Lisa will show you her job during her 15 minute break. ● Kathy keeps explaining her job but won’t do it. ● You arrive for a family visit to find only one or two family members available. ● The original procedure you were given does not at all match what you are seeing. 12
  13. 13. UXPA 2019 Tips for Researchers ● If you obtained a process document or someone described a task flow you have a good start ○ Try to build on their description and fill it in ○ Look for discrepancies in the expected flow ○ Notice what was left out Receiving Incoming shipments must be scanned for inventory Storing Inventory must be stored in a specific location Picking Inventory must be picked for shipment after a sale 13
  14. 14. UXPA 2019 Tips for Researchers ● Look for the exceptions, ● Visit the most senior and least senior person ● Look at the novice and the expert. ● Recruiting on the fringe. 14
  15. 15. UXPA 2019 Tips for Researchers Start with the pretty but push on for the gritty. 15
  16. 16. UXPA 2019 Tips for Researchers ● Sometimes people clean up for you ● Listen to what they say but look for what is put away 16
  17. 17. Analysis and Reporting
  18. 18. UXPA 2019 Analyzing ● Immediate debrief ○ You think you will remember it all but you won’t ○ Discuss the best quotes, pictures and mark them ● Divide and conquer ○ Transcripts, notes, images, video, brainstorm results ○ Then come together and dive in ● Look for themes then choose relevant materials to support them. ● Focus, beware of the agony of omitting ● Explore SW options for help with analysis ● Explore more formal methods (RADaR data reduction method) 18
  19. 19. UXPA 2019 Reporting ● Make clever use of visuals ● Pictures are important to show context ● Video can be powerful 19 Credit: Gladys Rosa Mendoza, Big Design Dallas, Visual Storytelling
  20. 20. UXPA 2019 Reporting ● Did you answer your primary questions? ● Know your audience ● Share surprises ● Explain workarounds and their causes ● Tell a story ● Share enough details to bring them along on the journey ● Pull them to the same understanding of the conflict 20
  21. 21. UXPA 2019 Reporting • The story is unfinished • You’ve introduced the end users • You’ve provided details and they understand the conflict • Now together you will begin to write the ending • Villain, victim, hero. Your team is the hero 21
  22. 22. Contact Everyone’s email, LI/Twitter etc. Resources Articles Rapid and Rigorous Qualitative Data Analysis: The “RADaR” Technique for Applied Research- Why Big Data needs Thick Data- Best Practices for Ethnographic Research- research-lessons-learned-in-the-wild-ceb5bfc3bf Making the Most of Ethnographic Research- 5 things I learned about strategic storytelling from Michael Margolis- Ted talks Ethnography: Ellen Isaacs at TEDxBroadway - Tricia Wang - The Human Insights Missing from Big Data - Case Studies UXPA 201922
  23. 23. UXPA 2019 Prepare for the Future ● Explore smart home early adoption ● Understand how people are using these new technologies ● Look for unmet needs ● 12 total in-home interviews ● All participants had smart devices ● Major concerns were setup, energy use, security, privacy of information with a voice assistant, interoperability, adding more devices and falling short of truly being useful. ● Delights were easy shopping, quality speakers, fun with the new “family member”, control from outside of the home. ● Understanding of unmet needs leads to a new product or new strategic direction. ● Insight leads to a patented idea. ● Understanding stops the current product idea and inspires a pivot. Project: Method: Research Findings: Results: 23
  24. 24. UXPA 2019 Questions?
  25. 25. Contact @Christyy41 UXPA 201925
  26. 26. Thank You UXPA 201926