Monday, January 25, 2010

Talking the talk

I stumbled across it in one of my folders which had been lost inside another folder for the past year. It's a document I created for one our new colleagues to familiarise herself with how we talk, walk and do ethnographic research. I thought you'd be interested so I am sharing...


1. Ethnography is about watching what people do, then understanding what it means. We record ordinary, everyday events to find out extraordinary new things about people

2. We do participant observation – which means hanging out with people and learning first hand what life looks like, feels like and tastes like for our subjects

3. We record people’s lives and events on camera - video recordings enable us to scrutinise events in detail and to view them again and again

4. Things do not naturally ‘mean anything’ – meanings are created not found. Our ethnographers are never just camera operators. They are researchers, thinkers and interpreters of other people's realities and priorities

5. Interpretation and finding meanings is done best as a collaborative process, so we involve clients every step of the way, we don't work in isolation


6. Most research is based on what people SAY. Our research also captures what people DO.

7. Most research is about things that have happened. Our research also looks at things that nearly happen or things that don't happen.

8. Most research is about what you know that you don't know. Our research always includes what you don’t know that you don't know, which is the source of most insights

9. Most research focuses in on a product or brand or topic. Our research looks at the context in which the product or brand or topic arises. (We never treat an event as a stand-alone, discrete happening. Everything is connected)

10. Most research struggles to identify those split-second, often private moments where decisions are made. Our research is designed to capture and record those key, decision moments.

11. Some research uses CCTV to study shopping behaviour. Our research nearly always includes shopping. But you cannot understand shopping behaviour by only watching people shopping. You have to know what emotional baggage the shopper ‘brings with them’ to the shop and what the arrangements are at home.


12. We study client briefs to ensure that all of the objectives are appropriate to ethnographic explorations – there is no point doing ethnography if an interview-based approach will achieve the same results

13. Before an exploration begins, we agree what are the absolute minimum key events we need to capture in order to provide the necessary raw material for great analysis and interpretation

14. We typically spend 2-3 days in-home, usually with between four and six households.

15. We never tell households what we are there to film/capture during the first in-home phase. This way we don't set up biases. It is vital that we natural occurring natural events which occur spontaneously

16. We edit the raw footage and show the edit to the clients (usually up to 30 minutes per household). We hold a question-generation workshop, to find out what the client team wants to know about the subjects’ behaviour / what they have watched

17. We go back to the subjects and ask them to provide a commentary as a voiceover to the edited film – this is known as the co-discovery process and we incorporate the client questions at this stage. Clients are encourage to attend too.

18. Our deliverables include household narrated films which are carefully edited and dubbed to most effectively convey the key insights and interpretations by theme, market & segment.


21. Our speciality is running multi-country projects. We have developed techniques to ensure consistent quality across different markets, cultures and languages.

22. We only ever use local country ethnographers who know and understand their culture.



  1. Thanks for this, it's a great summary.

  2. I agree, an EXCELLENT summary.
    Um, did someone sub it or something ...;)?