Self-ethnography – literally putting the tools of our trade into the hands of consumers and encouraging them to document their own lives – is a growing part of what we do. It has been enabled to a large degree by the growth of smartphones in the mainstream, and the growing tendency for people to document their lives and the world around them.
It’s taking research into completely new territory: from push to pull.
Over the past decade the research industry has been asking the question: how can we make something that is essentially undesirable (i.e. research) a little more bearable? So everyone got very excited about gamification and Flash-based drag-and-drop exercises in online surveys.
But we’ve started to notice that far from sugar-coating a bitter pill, self-ethnography techniques can make research desirable, beneficial and even cathartic for people. And the end result is deeper and more powerful insights.
We are increasingly using mobile ethnography and participant-generated video to understand lives, journeys, behaviours and emotions in entirely new ways – by knitting together video footage and image capture with real-time commentary – allowing people to become active participants in the process of deriving meaning from what we observe.
The ability for us to dig deeper over time, to listen actively, to be patient and respectful and unobtrusive, has encouraged people in their own time and on their own terms to let us into their worlds in a way that’s different to traditional ethnography or online community research.
In a number of cases, participants have actually thanked us for the opportunity to document and make sense of their feelings around a particular topic. Honestly.
And when we ran a self-ethnography study into fatherhood, the output that was so powerful that we turned it into a documentary that was subsequently shown on prime-time national TV.
Far from replacing what we do, digital technology is making it better.
We’ve been speaking on this subject at a few conferences recently. You can see our presentation slides here: