Tuesday, 26 July 2016


Field observation is useful for collecting data and for generating hypotheses and theories. Like all qualitative techniques, it is concerned more with description and explanation than with measurement and quantification. 

Field observations are classified along two major dimensions:
 (1) the degree to which the re­searcher participates in the behavior under observation and
 (2) the degree to which the observation is concealed.

overt observation
In this situation, the re­searcher is identified when the study begins, and those under observation are aware that they are being studied. Furthermore, the researcher's role is only to observe, refrain­ing from participation in the process under observation. 

overt participation

 Quadrant 2 represents overt participation. In this arrangement, those be­ing observed also know the researcher, , the researcher goes beyond the ob­server role and becomes a participant in the situation.

Covert observation
 Quadrant 3 represents the situa­tion where the researcher's role is limited to that of observer, but those under observa­tion are not aware they are being studied. 

Covert participation
Quadrant 4 represents a study in which the researcher participates in the process un­der investigation but is not identified as a researcher. ex: a re­searcher wants to observe and analyze the dynamics of writing comedy for television. 

The researcher could choose the covert ob­server technique and pretend to be doing something else  while actually observing the TV writing team at work.
Advantages of Field
Field observation often helps the researcher define basic background in­formation necessary to frame a hypothesis and to isolate independent and dependent variables. For example, a researcher inter­ested in how creative decisions in advertising are made could observe several decision-making sessions to see what happens. 

Field observations often make excellent pilot stud­ies because they identify important variables and provide useful preliminary information. 

In addition, since the data are gathered first­hand, observation is not dependent on the subjects' ability or willingness to report their behavior. For example, young children may lack the reading or verbal skills necessary to respond to a questionnaire concerning their TV viewing behavior, but such data are eas­ily gathered by the observational technique.

Field observation is particu­larly suitable for a study of the gatekeeping process in a network television news de­partment because it is difficult to quantify gatekeeping.
Field observation may also provide access to groups that would otherwise be difficult to observe or examine. For example, a ques­tionnaire sent to producers of X-rated mov­ies is not likely to have a high return rate. 

An observer, however, may be able to establish mutual trust with such a group and persuade them to respond to rigorous questioning.
Field observation is usually inexpen­sive. In most cases, it requires only writing materials or a small audio or video recorder.  Perhaps the most noteworthy ad­vantage of field observation is that the study takes place in the natural setting of the ac­tivity being observed and thus can provide data rich in detail and subtlety.

Many mass media situations, such as a family watch­ing television, are complex and constantly subjected to intervening influences.  field observation allows observers to identify these otherwise unknown variables.
Disadvantages of Field Observations
On the negative side, field observation is a poor choice if the researcher is concerned with external validity. Validation is difficult partly because the representativeness of the observations made is potentially question­able and partly because of problems in sam­pling.

Observing the TV viewing behavior of a group of children at a daycare center can provide valuable insights into the social set­ting of television viewing, but it probably has little correlation with what preschoolers do in other places and under different cir­cumstances. 

Besides, since field observation relies heavily on a researcher's perceptions and judgments and on preconceived notions about the material under study, experimenter bias may favor specific preconceptions of re­sults, while observations to the contrary are ignored or distorted. Potential bias is why it is rare to use only one observer in a field observation study—observations should be cross-validated by second or third observers.
Finally, field observations suffer from the problem of reactivity. The very process of being observed may influence the behavior under study. Of course, reactivity can be a problem with other research methods, but it is most often mentioned as a criticism of field observation 

Additionally, among those who reported an observer effect, there were no systematic differences in the distribution of changes. About the same number said that they watched more because of the observer as said they watched less. 

Obviously, addi­tional studies of different groups in different settings are needed before this problem is fully understood, but Lull's data suggest that although reactivity is a problem with obser­vational techniques, its impact may not be as drastic as some suggest.
In any case, at least two strategies are available to diminish the impact of selec­tive perception and reactivity. One is to use several observers to cross-validate the re­sults. A second strategy is triangulation, or supplementing observational data with data gathered by other means (for example, ques­tionnaires or existing records). Accuracy is sought by using multiple data collection methods.
Field Observation Techniques
There are at least six stages in a typical field observation study: choosing the research site, gaining access, sampling, collecting data, an­alyzing data, and exiting.
Choosing the Research Site. The nature of the research question or area of inquiry usu­ally suggests a behavior or a phenomenon of interest.Possible research venues can be identified from personal experience, from talking with other researchers, from interviews with people who frequent the site, or from newspaper and magazine stories.

Gaining permission to conduct field ob­servation research requires persistence and public relations skills. Researchers must de­cide how much to disclose about the nature of the research.
After the contact is made, rapport must be established with the subject(s)
·                     Identify the scene's gatekeeper and at­tempt to persuade him or her of the project's relevance.
·                     Find a sponsor who can vouch for the usefulness of the project and can help locate participants.
·                     Negotiate an agreement with par­ticipants.

Sampling. Sampling in field observation is more ambiguous than in most other research approaches. First, there is the problem of how many individuals or groups to observe.  The research problem and the goals of the study are indicators of the appropriate sample size; for example, if the results are intended for generalization to a population, study­ing one subject or group is inadequate.

·                        Maximum variation sampling: Set­tings, activities, events, and informants are chosen purposefully to yield as many different and varied situations as possible.

Exiting. A researcher acting as a participant must have a plan for leaving the setting or the group under study.
Field Observation Online
In the physical world, field observation en­tails watching people behave in their normal surroundings. In the online world, field ob­servation usually means observing text and images on a computer screen.