Jan Chipchase on Researching in the Field

Last week we had the privilege of attending Tiger.Blam, an eye-opening discussion put on by frog design and IxDA featuring Nokia field researcher Jan Chipchase. Though not trained as an anthropologist, Chipchase makes a living by learning first-hand about how people interact, work, and – just generally – live with and without technology. He openly […]

Last week we had the privilege of attending Tiger.Blam, an eye-opening discussion put on by frog design and IxDA featuring Nokia field researcher Jan Chipchase. Though not trained as an anthropologist, Chipchase makes a living by learning first-hand about how people interact, work, and – just generally – live with and without technology. He openly shares his experiences via his blog, where he posts some of the research he does to inform Nokia design as well as his own musings on the future of connectivity (we’ve featured several of his insights here before).

Chipchase talked extensively about the methodology he and his colleagues apply to conducting field research in emerging markets – a process of discovery that is as elucidating as the end results.  We found especially interesting the principles that guide him and his team members when they’re conducting research in the field:

  • “Question everything” – Being attuned to every action, behavior, detail – insight exists in everything.
  • “The participants are in control” – Chipchase emphasize the  importance of respecting the time and space offered by those he talks to and learns from.
  • “What motivates the team?” – Maintaining motivation within the team of researchers and participants to keep people invested in what the study is about and what they hope to discover.
  • “Visible equality” – Offering equality among participants and researchers – meaning if he and his colleagues stay in a hotel outside of the favela they’re studying, the participants within the favela are invited to come in and share their space.
  • “Define and communicate boundaries” – Being as transparent as possible and acknowledging immovable boundaries. Participants in his ethnographic studies are given something to keep from the study (i.e. a USB stick with data gathered) – which also gives the researchers a sense of accountability – which helps guide what and how they do their study.

Jan Chipchase: Future Perfect

(image credit: Shaul Schwarz for the NY Times)

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