Monthly Archives: October 2011

Client Ethnography Briefing, Part II

In my last blog, I spoke about the importance of both engaging clients in ethnographic fieldwork as well as the value of a proper brief before entering the field as a member of the team.  I also shared the first half of the Client Ethnography Briefing document we at Northstar share with our clients to prepare them for participating in fieldwork.  The first half talks about the benefits of an ethnographic approach and what to expect from the experience by way of process and analysis.

Below is part two of that same document, whereby we detail out the responsibilities team members have for data capture and generation.  If you would like more information about the Northstar Approach to ethnographic fieldwork or would like a copy of the complete document, please feel free to reach out to me directly:



As Consumer Anthropologists we are socio-cultural investigators.  We spend time in places with people in order to pick up on clues that contribute to our understanding of those people and those places.  We interview, observe, listen, and participate across a period of time, and we do all of this while documenting our process along the way through video capture, note-taking and digital photography.  It is the role of any participant in the fieldwork to take on an ethnographer’s responsibilities.  This ultimately allows for a more enriching experience for the observer/participant, and generates higher quality and more meaningful data. 

Data Capture

  •  Observing & Participating – we are committed to going out and getting close to the activities and every day experiences of other people.  Ethnography enables us to directly experience for ourselves both the ordinary routines and conditions under which people live their lives and how they purchase and use products.  It involves being with other people to see how they respond to events and questions and experiencing for oneself these events.  Observing and engaging in these activities leads to the acquisition of empathy for other people’s ways of acting and feeling.
  • Listening – listening builds trust which will bring a level of comfort, honesty and openness to the process, which are all keys to accurate data collection.  We want and need them to be able to describe their lifestyle, behavior, thoughts, feelings, values, and attitudes in as much detail as they possibly can.  We do this most effectively through patient and active listening.
  •  Note-taking – we always carry a field journal or note pad and we ask that client participants do the same.  We ask that all ethnography team participants jot down observations of the actions and attitudes of our participants, as well as their own thoughts, questions, and reflections during their “lived experience” in the field.  These notes should be written contemporaneously with the events depicted, and do not have to be consistent in voice or purpose.  These notes will lend immediate value to the initial stages of our analysis.
  • Videography & still photography – we always bring both a video and still camera with us into the field to document our experience.  We ask clients to bring a camera and  snap photographs during their “lived experience” in the field.  We, of course, will have a digital camera as well and will be snapping our own photos as well as shooting video.  While we are certainly interested in documenting the behaviors of our participants, we are also very interested in capturing the context – people, items, & physical environment – that surrounds them.  Some examples include prized possessions,  media, tools, dress, favorite foods, pets, vehicles, artwork etc.

Data Analysis


  •  Post-Interview Debrief: Immediately following each interview we have a brief discussion with client participants to compare notes, retell anecdotes, share discoveries and discuss our top-of-mind impressions from the experience.  Topics for discussion might include:
  • Major themes recognized that relate to the guiding question
    Sensory impressions: sights, sounds, textures, smells, and tastes
    Specific words, phrases, summaries of conversations, and insider language
  • Personal responses to/feelings about what we observed – “What was it like for you to be doing this research?”  “In what ways did you connect with informants, and in what ways didn’t you?”  While this is extremely important information, we will be especially careful to separate it from the core analysis.
  • Questions for future investigation
  • Patterned similarities and differences as compared to other interviews we’ve completed

Aside from a “we look forward to having you in field with us” note, that’s the brief, at length. 😉

I look forward to your comments on shared experiences or other best practices.