When I do my ethnography talks, one of the most important topics I cover is what people DON'T do. What they NEARLY do and, so it follows, what they don't say.
Conventional research is all about what is done and said. If lucky, some researchers will add meaning/interpretation too. If not so lucky, the quotes/statements will be presented as insight...
So where am I going with this?
Here me out.
My personal obsession with naturalism and reality are forever being blind sided by the way we are forced to recruit respondents. This is not about the quality of respondents. We always recruit excellent respondents. But nonetheless respondents who have been selected on the basis of their answers to attitudinal and other questions.
[A brief story: When I was at DDB London many years ago heading up their ethnographic research unit, I was showing a planner colleague some edits of one of our households when his jaw dropped.
"But I did an in-depth with the same guy in that same house!"
I looked at him and was taken aback by how upset he was.
"He told us he was a hospital nurse!!!"
Then it dawned on me. We had been told he had a completely different profession. I complained to the recruitment agency (a reliable supplier) and then to our head of planning before being told to 'not blow it out of proportion...]
The above happened over 12 years ago. Why did it happen? Most likely because the client had extremely tough criteria and the recruiters were in a hurry - which they always are - to deliver. And people get so obsessive about how respondents answer particular questions they completely ignore the fact that they too are humans, just like the rest of us, who have their own agendas for becoming respondents. This agenda us usually money related.
Now for something hard to swallow. I have lived in with hundreds of households, both in my JWT days and my DDB days. All had ticked the correct boxes. All fitted narrowly defined criteria by the way they had responded to screeners.
In many cases when we presented back films (and in those days I didn't do jump cuts or short edits) the client would be seeing their segment for the first time in their OWN SETTING. And they would ask questions such as: Why does a C2D household have a flat screen TV and health club membership? (A: because they are on benefits and pay no taxes). Why is a 'healthy' household having a fry up breakfast on a Saturday??? (A: because they don't see it as unhealthy) And so it went. Clients would see their respondents in-situ for the first time and slump back in their seats at all they things they might have got wrong with the way they understood them.
It's worth saying that I have never cut out events and happenings which conflict with who the respondents are supposed to be. It's tempting to do because the last thing you need is to be accused of bad recruitment which will undermine just about everything you have done including each and every insight generated.
When clients do question recruitment, I so want to demonstrate to them that the same respondent can fit all of their segments depending on context. I so want give another presentation so they can see the different hats, attitudinal and other, worn by respondents depending on their moods and modes. And Ethnography is such a brilliant way of bringing these things to life. Yet we don't. We recruit and capture respondents like they are two dimensional beings with emotions, beliefs and values which are constant. HA!
You the reader have better things to do than read my ramblings here so I will get to the point. What is our mission for 2012? To develop features and tools for EthOS which will allow us to immerse ourselves into the mundane, ordinary realities of non-recruited people in the real world. Not respondents who have pledged to behave in a particular way by filling in a recruitment form. This is what 2012 has in store for us.