Play, Learn, Teach

Useful ethnography is more than observing or conducting a good interview. It is more than asking questions about the obvious.  It is much more than that, and it has to be  grounded in some knowledge of what to look at, what to observe, and what to record.  Just coming home with a stack of videotape is not ethnography.

Good ethnography lies in the analysis and the ability to work collaboratively with other researchers (qualitative and quantitative), marketers and business development teams to create new ways of solving problems and understanding your business. That means being willing to explore and take risks.  We often assume when “hanging out” with people that we can’t challenge what they say or do. We often assume we shouldn’t conduct experiments to try and understand things like the symbolic relationships between color, shape, taste, etc.

Next time you’re in the field, ask people to make dinner, ask them to wash the car, ask them to go for a drive. If it feels strange, all the better – it gives people license to play, learn and teach.  And that is ultimately the goal of goal ethnography.


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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