How to conduct observations
1. Plan your observations
Identify a researcher
A good researcher is essential when observing and/or interacting with target audiences in their real-life environment. They need to avoid all potential pitfalls, such as the detail and completeness of their observations, as well as potential bias in data collection or analysis. They need to be completely open-minded and able to put someone else’s viewpoint before their own. They also need to understand the purpose of why the observation is being conducted.
Identify appropriate subjects
It is essential that observation subjects are as representative of the larger user audience as possible. It is also vital that the subjects are prepared for the demands of the research, and willing to be open and honest with the researcher.
Articulate your objectives
You will need clear, well-defined objectives to guide your research and keep it focused, eg. To find and document the real benefits of user experience. Consider the ultimate purpose of the research and how the findings will be used.
Prepare a topic guide
This should structure the observation by highlighting key issues as well as defined indicators for the researcher. Unlike a topic guide for interviews, this should leave room for exploration. Researchers should be prepared to be led away from the topic guide completely. Depending on your objectives, the research may take a few hours or it may take a couple of days. It may be appropriate to conduct your research at a particular time, or it may be necessary to observe subjects at different times of the day or week.
Prepare your participants
Participants need to understand the role they will play and the ways in which the research may be used, before giving written approval via a consent form. Explain what you’re trying to achieve and how they can help by sharing their experiences. Check if they are happy to use their real name or whether they would prefer to use a pseudonym. Ask about which types of media they would be happy to be featured in, if any. Get their written approval on the notes you prepare and a consent form, to confirm what’s been agreed. Participants will also need to be fully briefed on what the observation will entail.