Field observation

demo text

Smart governance, Smart living, Smart People
Field observation is a qualitative research method that helps to gain an inside view of the community and the setting. By observing and talking to people about the topic of interest or about the problematic, this method provides a deeper understanding of the problems in their (local) context. Field observer presumes that there will be multiple (stakeholders’) perspectives within any community and is interested in knowing them and understanding the interplay among them. In this process it is necessary to look at the members of community that is observed as (possible) collaborators otherwise some valuable insights and data gets lost. The observation may be done individually, in pairs, or in teams – the decision depends on the location and the topics. If conducted in pairs/teams observers should disperse to different locations. In collecting the data, you should be creative, use recorders, write, draw sketch etc. You should be prepared and willing to adapt to uncontrolled situations and settings. Observe people as they engage in activities, engage in the activities yourself, carry out casual conversations in public places, bars, in markets etc. Generally speaking, you should (try to) go where people in the community often go in their daily lives. Other option is to attend organized events connected to the topic of your interest. Field observation gives nuanced understanding of the community or of a context that can come only from personal experience. It can be used to help answer descriptive research questions, to build theory, or to generate or test predictions/hypotheses. The field observation helps to get the feel of how things in the community are organized and prioritized, how people interrelate and what are the parameters, what members of the community deem to be important or where communities is facing challenges, provide you with a source of questions to be addressed with participants and help to find the answers to what is worth observing. Some of the most important reasons to use participant observation are: the method enables the possibility to collect different types of data, it helps to develop questions that make the most sense or are most important in certain environment, enables to collect qualitative and quantitative data. Compared to other qualitative approaches and methodologies, field observation has some valuable advantages. Firstly, to be actively present within community requires that researcher learns about the community and its activities in much details. Being in direct contact enhances the empathy and in-depth understanding of the community’s activities. Observations are made in various situations, at various locations and at various times, which brings the observer closer to the community and also eliminates the formality of scheduled workshops or sessions. On the other hand, from the nature of this method stem also some of its disadvantages, one of the main being that it is fairly time consuming. Another is the difficulty of documenting the data, which is also connected with the challenging tasks of simultaneously observing and taking notes. Further, observation in some domains requires specific knowledge to understand the processes. And lastly, observations is subjective exercise.

Before meeting

Doing field observations requires preparation. Firstly, you must do some initial research – or you can take the smartness self-assessment – then decide the focus of the observation – what are you interested in? It may be useful to create a list of things to pay attention to as this may help to keep the focus. Address the following points: - Decide on the purpose of your observation activity. - Consider the main questions that will guide the study. - Plan how much time you want to spend on observation - Consider the population of the community, possible (key) informants and the representativeness of the participants of the population at the site. - Consider the site under study, what opportunities are available and where to observe. - Plan how you will take notes during the participant observation activity. - Consider the strategies to be used to record and analyse the data. - Consider the ethics dilemmas of you observation, address and resolve them properly.

Meeting execution

Field observation is a simple, yet challenging task. Simply, document what you observe but be careful to distinguish observations from expectations and your own interpretations of what you see. It is important to document what is actually taking place rather than what you were expecting to see and to not let your expectations affect your observations. The purpose of participant observation is partly to confirm what you already know (or think you know) but is mostly to discover new things/truths. - Observe. While in the community, make careful, objective notes about what you see, record and write observations in a notebook. Carry out informal conversations and interactions and take notes on them in as much detail as possible. Pay attention to information and messages from the media and document them. Pay attention to: the people, social behaviour, actions, interactions between people, environmental factors, tools and artifacts used in the interactions. - Take (only brief) notes. When you are actively engaged in activities, you can’t take detailed notes, instead brief down whatever you can. - You can also record it (audio or video).

After meeting

After the observation take some time to analyse your notes and impressions. To make the analysis at any stage of the participatory process effective and convenient, include the following steps:- Directly after the observation schedule some time to expand your notes and include as many details as possible; add your impressions, information you collected through photographs, recordings etc. - Type your notes into computer files – this will facilitate the next steps of the analysis of the data. - Analyse the data iteratively and try to make connections between observations and objective data collected through other methods (e.g. contextualisation with the use of quantitative data).
Recurring events, 1 day +
Depends on the focus of the observation and number of observers.
Moderator skills required, moderator knowledge required.
Sector: Universal method