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July 7, 2009

Pseudo-Ethnography: Constructive when Contrived?


Recently, I was preparing for some Immersion work for a client that involved witnessing some consumer shopping occasions.  I contacted a recruiter that I hadn’t used before, but had been recommended.  I was looking to recruit grocery store shoppers along specific category, attitudinal, demographic and behavioral criteria.  No big deal.

Until the recruiter asked me for a few details:  What should the scheduled interview times look like each day?  At what specific stores in the area would I like to meet the respondents?  Do I want to meet them before they shop or after?  Those of you who have been involved in ethnographic research can plainly see the danger signs in this line of questioning.  And those of you who haven’t might certainly smell something fishy.   When I asked the recruiter why she was asking me for this information, she said:  “It’s easier for all of us that way”.  Oh, well–if it’s easier…

I told the recruiter that I wasn’t too concerned about “easy”, and that I wanted to do the sessions when, where and how the consumer typically shops.  Silence on the other end, as she thought about how this little wrinkle would impact her day.  As if no one ever demanded this before.   Suffice it to say that we did it my way, which in my mind is the only worthwhile way to do it.

Contrived ethnography is a contradiction in terms, as well it should be.  Whether in homes, stores or anywhere else, Immersion is not simply an interview in context.  The user experience cannot be “scheduled”.  Insight into shopping behavior cannot be gleaned in an unfamiliar store or a forced in-store routine.  True Immersion doesn’t involve more time in a sit-down Q&A than in observation.  And, it does not involve scads of note-takers, videographers and observers.

So, the next time you are asked by your ethnographer when and where you would like to do the “in-home interviews”, run.  Or, better yet, say “whenever and wherever the consumer wants”.

1 Comment »

  1. This is a great watch out. I have been called for research where the recruiter left a message as to the specific purpose of the interview (this is a study on household air fresheners), the date and time and the amount I would be paid if I ‘qualified’.

    Comment by Lori Rothman — July 29, 2009 @ 10:51 am

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