This week in the Content Series, The Design Lab had its session on Ethnographic Research Tools. This was led by Libehela Lydia Kabi, a first year student studying Business Administration here in Ashesi University College. She defines ethnography as the study of people and cultures which reflects the knowledge and the systems of meanings in the lives of those cultural groups. Research tools on the other hand are defined as the necessary means for the collection of information. A scenario concerning transportation for Ashesi, laying out the need for a vehicle to transport students to areas beyond campus rather than dredge their feet all the in the scorching sun.
Libehela goes on to note three key ethnographic research tools that could be utilized to assess the situation at hand. These tools are observational shadowing, depth interviews and immersion. When we think of observational shadowing, we could see it as gathering information on a subjects in their natural habitat without any form of communication with them. She mentions the benefits of observational shadowing such as obtaining factual information. Factual information is obtained by just observing the subjects’ natural behavior in their habitats. When they’re undisturbed, you will obtain true details on the matter because if researchers do make the mistake of interrupting the subjects, they could go into a state of pretence, rendering your research useless.
She goes on to elaborate on depth interviews. A Depth interview is a one-on-one interaction between a researcher and the subject he or she is studying in order to explore their perspective on a case at hand. This research tool has its share of benefits as well. One of such benefits would be better rapport. Researchers can pay undivided attention to their research subjects as they express themselves with concerns to. This creates a more comfortable environment for the subjects who would no doubt provide the researcher with the necessary information that he or she needs pertaining to the issue. When conducting interviews, researchers must not get into the habit of asking questions that are double-barreled. An example of that would be “Who are you? Where did you come from? Who raised you?” This puts quite a lot of pressure on the subjects and it may cause them to back out of the interview. Another thing not to do would be to ask personal questions such as ones that have to do with their families. The main goal of a researcher is to gain insight on how subjects feel about the situation they are entrapped in, not dipping into their personal profiles.
Libehela finally mentions the method of immersion. Immersion is where the researcher dives into the situation itself rather than monitor it from a distance or simply asking about it. In relating this to her case scenario, a researcher could decide to join the struggling Ashesi students who have no mode of transportation off campus. He would walk with them all the way to the bus stop in town, all sweaty just like they are in wait for a taxi or a trotro. This could be termed as “Literal Empathy” because rather than imagine themselves in the place of the students, they would actually put themselves in that place. This is yet another fine research tool in getting to assess the situation on a deeper level, but it also might be disadvantageous in the sense that the researcher might forget the true purpose behind his choosing of this method to tackle the task. Ethnographic Research tools are useful in any project the Design Lab has underway and essential in capturing the goal of carrying them out, be they for the need of Ashesi students or the locals of Berekuso. The content series goes on, bringing more useful information on the awesome work in motion here at the design lab.
Story By Jude Ansah