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Field Kits: Capturing Data During Ethnographic Research Part Two

Anneliis Tosine

A field kit can be a powerful tool in UX research. Learn how you can modify your field kit for different ethnographic research environments to ensure you’re collecting the best quality data in the most efficient way.

Field kits: Capturing data during ethnographic research part two

As discussed in our first field kit post, carefully prepping for ethnographic research can go a long way in getting more focused data and in easing analysis. However, you may find in some cases that a structured template for capturing data is not ideal and that you need more flexibility to capture the experience in a way that will still be easy to organize retrospectively.

Picture this: you are observing nurses at a nursing station as they review lab results for patients in a hospital. Reviewing these results is only a small portion of their responsibility. This means you only have sporadic and quick opportunities to observe the nurses’ infrequent lab workflows and have ad-hoc moments to follow-up on them. You feel overwhelmed that you may mix up experiences, miss jotting something down, or may be unable to decipher your notes afterwards.

In contrast, observing a scheduled medical procedure in an examination room is quite different. How you take notes will vary greatly between these two environments since factors like interruptions, predictability, environment, stakeholders, and technology, are very different between the two.

As part one of this post mentioned, when conducting this type of observational research, note taking is a vital aspect of the process, as photos and videos may not be permitted. In this blog post, we share what we learned about other variations of note taking that we utilized in a recent ethnographic study and their benefits.

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The Research

Our healthcare user experience research included visiting a number of different environments such as clinics, a long-term care center, a short-term rehab facility, assisted living, and hospitals. For the visits, we shadowed physicians and nurses in different contexts while they reviewed lab results within an electronic health record (EHR) and completed other tasks.

When preparing for the research, we knew we would only be permitted to take notes at the sites we were visiting, so we prepared a modified field kit based on the learnings in our previous research that we printed for each observation day.

The Modified Field Kit

The purpose of the modified field kit was to ensure that our notes were structured to get the information we needed and help make data analysis more efficient. For each individual that we would be observing, his/her field kit section included the location of the observations, interview questions linked to specific parts of the workflow, and an observation guide. Each section for each participant had a tab divider for easy navigation while on site.

For the observation guide, we used the AEIOU framework, as described in part one of this blog post, but made the following improvements:

  • Pain points could belong in any of the sections (e.g. ‘Activities’) so did not require its own section.
  • Pain points could be tagged by a visual indicator to quickly spot them during analysis; this also held true for delights and opportunities.
  • Since our research was so focused, the ‘Environment’ and ‘Objects’ sections would be less data dense than ‘Activities’ and therefore, could occupy less space on the page.
  • Since our research was so focused, the ‘Interactions’ section could be pre-populated with the most likely options to simply check off instead of writing them out (e.g. between self and computer, between self and patient, between self and another clinician). The same applied to the ‘Objects’ section (e.g. computer, phone, paper, page, other).
  • The ‘User’ section could also be reduced to just a field to save note space since the role definitions were already well known.
  • An additional section was added – ‘Background Information’ – for information gathered that would further enhance the UX team’s knowledge about the problem space (e.g. acronyms, references, and organizational processes and policies).

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How Did Our Updated Field Kit Fair?

We set off to use our updated field kit at our first site and immediately started struggling with parts of it.

  • Participants had more time available to us than we imagined so extra blank pages were needed between our printed pages to capture more detailed notes.
  • Our interview questions and observation guide reinforced each other by containing feedback and insights regarding the same workflows so capturing the data chronologically became the clearer format and better supported referencing back to than the specific questions; overall, it was found that clinicians were able to better remember experiences and provide more valuable feedback by patient (i.e. chronological and workflow-based thinking) rather than by certain EHR attribute (i.e. feature-based thinking)
  • On the AEIOU framework, a section that we had left for ‘Questions’ (i.e. outstanding questions to follow up on after observations), was better captured on its own page as more room was required for the answers than the page permitted.
  • The data meant for the ‘Background Information’ section was better captured and embedded within the ‘Activities’ rather than on its own so as to provide the necessary context.

These findings meant that we had an opportunity to improve our field kit for our second site visit. We decided to update the following for each of the participant’s field kit sections:

  • Condensed all the interview questions onto one sheet to act more as a checklist than an area to write on
  • Used the AEIOU framework as a reminder of things to observe (also on its own page)
  • Lots of blank pages for documenting chronologically ordered notes with coded observations (e.g. pain points, activities, tools)

The result? A smoother experience for our UX team when note taking during observational research. With our adjustments to our original field kit, the team had more space to record categorized notes that were chronological in nature. These types of notes were easier to capture and analyze, and suited the nature in which the information was acquired – making for more efficient research in the case of this project.

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Make Your Own Field Kit

We have found multiple versions of this field kit useful, so we have included a copy of one of these files for you to use as a template for your own project. Simply enter your email below and we will send you a copy of the structured template which you can adjust just as we did. Keep in mind that people use tools differently and that different situations call for different tools, so if you need some support getting started or need support updating an old tool, give our UX research team a shout.

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Author Overview

Anneliis Tosine

With a background is in Biomedical Engineering and a focus on clinical applications and user-centered design, Anneliis has been an all-star asset to Macadamian's User Experience team.