My Accidental Ethnographic Research!

Updated: Sep 18



Ethnographic research is a qualitative method where researchers observe and/or interact with a study's participants in their real-life environment. Coming to My first ethnographic experience, It is really accidental and it is not like a minor project that everyone does after completing certification courses. But It is really ground level, self-learned, practical and also a long experience. It is simply about how a nerd guy like me managed to organize a highly polarized set of people and this will emphasize how User research will enhance your Strategy.


In the first year of my UG, On the basis of alphabetical order Students of my batch were divided into A and B classes with a maximum of 30 students each class. My name starts with 'S' Letter, So I ended up in B class. I was from a town background and with my nerd mindset, Initially, I found it very difficult to deal with my classmates who are mostly from a city background. But Later, I realized that I should Develop empathy to get along with others, and fortunately, students of my class were not polarised and they are united well more than usual, So I had no difficulties dealing with people. But the real challenge waited for me in the second year of my UG.


Classroom Ethnographic Research


In the second year due to the addition of lateral-entry students, 6 students from 'B' class including me transferred to 'A' Class. Within a few weeks, I experienced Class 'A' is highly polarised than usual, this time I had no problem in getting along with everyone, But biggest Question in my mind was "why others are not getting along with each other like me?". It made me so curious. In the meantime, my former class 'B' also started to polarize into groups. This added fuel to find an answer to my question, So I started to observe my classmates and their social behaviour. Since I am a hosteller, I had sources to learn about what happened in 'A' class in the First Year and What is happening in the 'B' Class in the second year and also around the college. Suddenly one day, I got one crazy idea in my mind, I thought "Instead of Just observing them as a Whole, If I understood them individually, then I can find an answer to my question." So I asked everyone to give me an interview saying that, I am going to write an article about college students. Out of 64 people, I interviewed almost around 40 which includes all key people in my batch. After gaining many Insights from different perspectives and observations, I understood that people are not comfortable with getting along with many people like me because it is just their choice. On one hand, After this study, I really felt like an idiot to have such wrong questions but on another hand, I really felt amused by the insights I gathered by my effort. But I never thought these insights will going to be very helpful in the future.


Creating Strategy using Ethnography!


In the third year of my college, both classes 'A' and 'B' were combined into one single class, After unification, I picked us Vice President of our student's association from my batch. So I have given the responsibility to organize, co-ordinate & communicate regarding the work allocated to the 3rd year of my department. After combining two classes, the degree of polarization gone high but one can find absolute unity only during bunking the lectures. And when it comes to the communication part, From my past observations I came to know that standing in Dias, talking loudly, and asking opinions to make decisions will not work efficiently for my mates. So Based on my previous observations, there are almost 11 prominent groups among 64 students in my class, all I had to pick up a key person in each group to communicate regarding organizing and coordination related to any work given to us. It worked efficiently and also it is just the first half of my 3rd year, our batch students had very less work because Core responsibility for organizing association events like Department fests, workshops will be mainly given to the final year students. As time flows, At the end of the third year, one of the Associate professors who also staff event coordinator called me and said that core responsibility of organizing an upcoming workshop was given to my batch because final year śtudents are busy with placements and projects. And He also gave me a list of names from my class in which different works regarding an upcoming workshop were individually allocated under each name. After I saw the list, I felt It's not going to work. So again based on my study, I made a new list with the same works under the names of people whom I rationally felt apt for that particular work. I gave my new list to the staff event coordinator, he said go-ahead with my combo. So with my observation, I strategized and gave the right work to the right people and once again I communicated in a strategic way for organizing, coordinating, and asking opinions from my batchmates because that was the first event completely organized by us. With all our efforts, the workshop ended as a highly successful one. It also made me realized the power of understanding the users/stakeholders in decision making. And after a few months, one of the person from the list whom I gave some set of responsibility to look after by him, said to me " You asked me to take care of one particular work during the survey workshop organized by us, After that only, I started to have more interest in having such kind of roles" but I gave him the responsibility because I observed him almost for a year and I also personally Interviewed him but definitely not due to favouritism or unconscious bias.


You may ask "whether it is necessary to put this many mental efforts for just organizing an event? In my case, No because I could organize the same event with one particular group of people with less effort but in that time I had an idealistic thought of everyone should own this event, every decision regarding events should be democratized as much as possible and I also strongly believed, Quality of executing the work will increase if it is a stakeholder centred. But I could assure you, the value brought by User research in strategy, planning, product development, and social innovation is very high.



"To create a good strategy using ethnographic research, All you need is empathy, basic user research skills, unbiased system thinking mindset"


AUTHOR:

SANTHOSH GANDHI (UX Researcher & Writer)



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