10 Things to Look For When Hiring an Ethnographer

Following are a number of questions every ethnographer should be able to answer.

1.  Is my project a good fit for ethnography?

Your ethnographic provider should be able to determine whether ethnography is a good fit based on your business objectives, timeline and budget. Ethnography is good for teasing out tactical insights, but best for strategic work because it focuses on systems of behavior and cultural meaning.

2.  What methods are utilized during ethnographic fieldwork?

Ethnographers utilize a combination of multiple methodologies, but should always mention participant observation and inductive interviews.  The interview, however, is only part of the process and an ethnographer should be able to discuss how he or she will uncover what people do as well as what they say.

3.  How long do ethnographic projects take to complete?

It depends on the scope of your project, but a really fast ethnography will take a couple months.  If a provider tells you otherwise, they aren’t doing ethnography.  That isn’t to say they aren’t doing ethnographically-informed work, they just aren’t doing a full-blown ethnography.

4.  Do ethnographers have a discussion guide like focus groups moderators?

Yes, however each ethnographer has a different style of inquiry, and will not repeat verbatim what is in the field guide.  The guide is meant to articulate possible avenues of inquiry, but the participant typically directs the conversation.

5.  What is the ethnographic analysis process?

Ethnographers should be able to explain their analytical process and this description should include a reference to social and cultural theory.  It should involve cultural modeling, uncovering variables and a process for systematically connecting elements of information.

6.  What is the difference between videography and ethnography?

Videography is story-telling through video. Videography may capture the moment, but lack the rigor of structured research. Videography is typically a portion of ethnography.

8.  What qualifications should ethnographic fieldworkers have?

They should have significant training in a social science disciplines, such as anthropology or sociology.  They should also have a wide range of field experiences.

9.  How do ethnographers learn ethnography?

They learn the basics of ethnography in graduate school and through hands-on experience in the field. To become a practitioner requires understanding of social science theory, research methods and research design.

10.  How can I be sure I can use the results from ethnographic research?

A good ethnographer will work with you to plan a research project that is designed around your business objective.  Therefore sampling, data collection and data analysis will all be guided by the end goal.  A good ethnographer understands the difference between interesting and actionable findings.


By Gavin

Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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