This week we had an additional lecture from Kate Saunderson who works as part of a close knit research team for the Scottish Government. She got us involved by having us discuss the experiences we had when applying to university and conducting short interviews between ourselves to highlight the possible trip-ups, gaps and difficulties there are within the system.

Saunderson then went on to highlight the seven main steps in conducting effective, ethnographical research. She made interesting points about how you frame a story, that it is up to a researcher to decide which information to actually share. To start with, this struct me unexpected, I thought researchers would be encouraged to pass on everything and that information could easily be twisted when you start editing parts out. However it quickly became clear that Sauderson was highlighting the need for participant confidentiality, morality when selecting information and protection. The example she gave was that if someone tells you they know about a secretive affair, you might decide not to broadcast this information in your study.

Saunderson also highlighted the effort that should be put in to repeatedly going over information, to continually go back to the start and play devils advocate to ensure that you have considered every possibly understanding and translation of the raw data you have. Also, one must be very careful of confirmation bias which happens when you have a certain belief or hypothesis before or whilst conducting the research, and therefore you interpret the information you have to fit that bias. You might make insignificant data seem more significant because it supports your idea and this is not honest to the raw data and the message the participant was trying to convey.

Finally, Saunderson brought up a point I hadn’t considered. When researching for the design of websites and apps, Saunderson and her team found that there is effectively an emerging generation who have grown up with just smartphones and therefore have very limited keyboard skills.  This information changed the way Saunderson’s team pitched their research questions (open ended vs. tick box) and compatibility across laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Kate Saunderson’s talk helped me get a better understanding of research design ethnography in practice.