Ethnography Project - Methodology
About the Study and the Findings
About the Study
In 2010, the research team conducted an observational research study of families within our "target audience." The goal of the study was to develop a first-hand understanding of the day to day lives of the families we are trying to reach. Our observations revolved around these specific areas of interest:
What is the nature and purpose of personal interaction within the family and with the community?
What is the nature and purpose of media use within the family?
What challenges does this family face and how are they overcome?
What are the aspirations and desires of this family?
Phase I: Virtual Observation
Using a 3rd party, we recruited twelve households as follows (each household was paid $800):
(4) married with children at home
(3) unmarried with children at home
(3) unmarried with no children (age <40)
(2) unmarried with no children (age <40)
In the first phase of the project each household received a project workbook and a small video camera. They were asked to complete a series of projects and exercises:
home videos of a "normal" day
a typical week’s schedule
list of their social support networks
list of all media devices in the home
1-hour in-depth interview (after the materials were returned)
Phase II: Home Visits and Interviews
We selected two families for seven-day home visits ($1000). A researcher visited their home for seven consecutive days, observing family activity, interaction, media use, community involvement, and conducting impromptu interviews with family members.
A 3rd family was selected for four additional in-depth interviews over a seven-day period ($300). These interviews focused on the same issues as the home visit.
The analysis for this project is based on identifying themes and sub-themes within the information provided. Some of the analyses were based on a single household, while some were topical—aggregating information about a certain issue (e.g. media use) across multiple households. There were no set rules about how to carry out the analysis—much of it was left to the discretion of the research team. However, special care was taken to identify our preconceptions and biases, and then think beyond them when evaluating a particular family or issue.
About the Findings
It allows the researcher to go beyond direct questions and answers, and discover information he or she would not have thought to ask about.
It also provides a great deal of nuanced data, so that the analysts can "read between the lines" and identify undercurrents and tones that the participants themselves may not be aware of or able to articulate clearly.
It provides the researcher with enough information from the participants’ own point of view that they can develop an insider’s vantage point.
The disadvantages of this approach are similar to a focus group.
It uses a non-representative sample, so results cannot be automatically generalized to the entire population—corroboration is needed.
Conclusions can only be drawn from what is present in the data—just because an issue did not appear in the mass of information doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist—it just means it did not appear. (In technical terms, this means there are no false positives, but there can be false negatives.)
The findings as a rule cannot provide any sense of the severity or prominence of an issue or piece of information.
Conclusions about how many people face a certain issue or have a certain perspective should be avoided. Conclusions about one idea or issue being "bigger" or “more common” than another should also be avoided, with a few exceptions.
Originally published November 2010
© 2010 Focus on the Family.