Ethnographic research


Combines observation with interviews to understand what people do, not what they say.


  • To uncover deeper insights into behaviour than interviewing or surveys alone.
  • To understand the use of a product or service, or change in behaviour, over time.
  • To understand a person or community from the 'bottom up', without assumptions.

What you get

  • ‘Thick’ data, made up of rich descriptions of daily life, behaviour, interactions and experiences.
  • Insight into what does and doesn’t work for people, without participants being conscious of that themselves.
  • Stories about daily life, interactions between people, products and services.
  • An understanding of people’s behaviours, hopes and aspirations.


  • Gives rich insight into the daily lives, behaviours and interactions of an individual or community.
  • Gives insights into behaviour, usage and interaction over time.
  • Generates more reusable insights compared with straight interviews or surveys.
  • Uncovers new knowledge about the context and problem that can lead to different ideas and solutions.


  • Can be time consuming to analyse data gathered from fieldwork.
  • The quality of the insights is dependent on the experience of the researcher.
  • Can lead to higher recruitment and incentive costs (as more time is needed with each participant).


When assessing plans for ethnographic research, experience is vital. Look for formal qualifications in the social sciences, and at least 5 years research experience.

Tools and resources