Collecting Primary Data: Observations Objectives By the end of this session you will be able to: • Describe some of the advantages and disadvantages of the observational approach. • Select an observational approach appropriate to a given research objective. • Analyse and interpret observational data. • Produce observational data that are valid and reliable. • Use observational methods in an ethical manner. Observation: is there movement? Observation: shrinking haze Observation: left/right brain conflict Observation • Triangulate with other data gathering methods. • Getting to understand participants’ symbolic world. • Observing what participants are unwilling to reveal. • Observing the difference between what participants say or think they do, and what they actually DO. How do we ‘observe’? Schemas/concepts Sensory INPUTS • Sight • Sound • Smell • Touch • Taste Interpretations OUTPUTS Observation roles Overt observation Announced participant Announced observer Participant observation Non-participant observation Undercover participant Undercover observer Covert observation Merits of participant observation Participant observation is of value in that it: • Is effective at observing non-verbal behaviour. • Is immediate in the sense that it elicits data on events as they happen. • Allows for a more natural relationship to develop over time between the researcher and respondent. Challenges of participant observation • • • • Insider v. outsider status – confusion. ‘Going native’ – bias. Being ‘outed’ – respondent anger. Collecting the data – how/when? The process of observation • Getting in. • Tracking. • Informed consent. • Becoming invisible. • Developing relationships. • Building rapport. • Eavesdropping. • Handling identity. • Asking questions. • Observing and learning. • Locating ‘stars’. • Getting out. Gathering data: field notes • Date, time, place. • Physical appearance of inhabitants. • Physical appearance of setting (layout, artefacts). • Observation of activities being undertaken (including sequence of events). • Observation of non-verbal behaviours (body language). • Tone of conversations (polite, formal, angry, etc.) • Key quotations. • Personal views, reflections and emotions. Expanding and analysing field notes • Primary observation: chronological log. Raw data (i.e., no explanations or analysis) of observations on people, their surroundings, behaviours and conversations. • Reflection and recall during the process of writing up field notes. • Pre-analysis of data: ideas and inferences. • Experiential data: impressions and personal feelings about events, people, conversations and interpretations of own emotional reactions. Structured observation More quantitative than the use of field notes. Advantages include: • It should result in more reliable data because the results can be replicated either by the same researcher at a different time, or by other researchers. • It allows data to be collected at the time they occur and does not have to rely on the recall of participants or their interpretation of events. • It collects data that participants themselves may not realize are important. Alternative ways of coding an event (a) Simple checklist Event 1 2 3 III IIII I (b) Sequence record Event 2 2 1 3 1 1 1 2 3 (c) Sequence record on timescale Elapsed time (mins) 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 Event 1 2 322 1 12 2 1 Enhancing validity • Select cases/settings on the basis of their potential for being representative of the population. • Study cases in one field that are similar to cases in another. • Stay in the field long enough to observe or experience the full range of routines and behaviours that typify the case. Enhancing reliability • Record observed events so that the data can be reviewed and, if necessary, re-interpreted by another researcher. • Keep very comprehensive notes, as some details that appeared hardly relevant at the time of the observation may later prove to be crucial. • Use structure in the data gathering process (e.g., coding events). • Triangulation – multiple methods of data collection. Writing up observational data Accounts could include: • The context of the study (physical setting, history, etc.). • The number of participants. • The activities taking place. • The division of labour and hierarchies. • Significant events. • Members’ perspectives and meanings. • Social rules and basic patterns of order. Summary • Observation is more than just ‘seeing’; it also involves complex combinations of all the senses and the interpretation of observed events. • Observation can be overt or covert and involve the active participation of the observer or non-participation. • One of the challenges of the observational approach is the gathering of data, particularly if the observer is a covert participant. • Field notes should be as comprehensive as possible and should be taken either as events are observed or as soon as possible afterwards. • Observational methods will often be triangulated with other research approaches, such as interviews and questionnaires. • For structured observation, coding schedules will be used based on the principle of either noting events over a period of time or noting when an event occurs. • Ethical issues arise, particularly where covert observation is being used. Researchers may do well to make use of a code of ethics drawn up by the relevant professional body, if such a code exists.