I attended the Action Research panel about entering into different groups and communities for research. The speakers included Professor Kim of the Engineering Department, Professor Searles of the Sociology and Anthropology Departments, and Professor Orsborn from the MIDE program in the School of Management.
It was interesting to hear how ethnographic research can be so fundamental to the success of projects across so many varying fields. It was interesting to hear how noting that a Guatemalan put their new glasses directly in the pocket and continued driving heavy machinery was the observation that made the necessity of fashion apparent. Although I had had the opportunity to see how clients don’t always say what they mean in some of Professor Orsborn’s classes, Professor Searles’s example of the students observing a contradiction to a porn shop manager’s impression that most of her customers are women was still surprising and emphasized the necessity of such investigations.
I thought that it was valuable to see how this kind of research is utilized across many different fields of study. A big take away for me was the idea of trust and relationship building in these kinds of studies. It’s easy for people to think that just sitting and watching their subjects would be enough to collect the necessary data. However, after listening to Kim, Searles, and Orsborn, I now know that it takes a level of trust and comfort for your subject to forget that you are observing them and in doing so reveal their true and uncensored behavioral patterns.