Reporting Ethnography: Storytelling & the Roles Participants Play

In Chapter 10 of Sam Ladner’s book Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector, the author discusses a best practice approach to reporting ethnographic research for a corporate audience.  She states Shakespean actorthat “private-sector ethnographic reports are successful if they are dramatic and consistent with the organization’s truth regime” (p.165).  To this end, Ladner recommends text reports with “clickable hyperlinks” throughout and supplemental material, such as a PowerPoint presentation, that acts as the “marketing campaign” or “movie trailer” for the text document.

As another “delightful element” to the ethnography report, Ladner suggests the use of personas or archetypes, each representing a depiction of participants that share a particular characteristic.  This is “a useful way to summarize the voluminous amount of qualitative data” (p. 167); however, Ladner cautions that personas “are often done badly” and points to Steve Portigal’s article on the subject matter, “Persona Non Grata.”  In it, Portigal advocates for maintaining the “realness” of research participants rather than manufacturing a “falsehood” (by way of personas) that distances the users of the research from the people they want to know most about.  Portigal encourages researchers to engage with the “messiness of actual human beings,” emphasizing that “people are too wonderfully complicated to be reduced to plastic toys [that is, personas].”

Reporting observational research for corporate users can be a challenge.  On the one hand, the researcher is obligated to dig into the messiness of analysis and convey an honest accounting of what the researcher saw and heard.  On the other hand, the final reporting is meaningless if no one pays attention to it, thereby preventing the research from having the desired effect of bringing new energy and a new way of thinking to the organization.  Ladner and Portigal agree that powerful storytelling grounded in reality is the best approach, but how do we create a compelling drama while maintaining the integrity of our data?  A combination of formats, as Ladner suggests, is one tactic.  And the use of personas may be another.  An open and ongoing discussion among researchers about personas – if and how the roles we assign the actors in our final story are (or can be) created while staying true to the study participants – seems like a worthwhile effort.


Image captured from:


Ethical Considerations in Case-Centered Qualitative Research

Case-centered qualitative research is discussed elsewhere in this blog (in particulaanonymityr, see “Multi-method & Case-centered Research: When the Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts”).  It is generally defined as multiple-method research that focuses on complex social units or entities (or “cases”) in their entirety, while maintaining the cohesiveness of the entity throughout the research process rather than reducing the outcomes to categorical data.  Two examples of case-centered research are: case studies – e.g., an examination of a city social program – and narrative research – e.g., a study of chronic illness among sufferers.

Ethical considerations are important in every research method involving human subjects but they take on added significance in case-centered research where researchers often work closely with research participants over a period of time and frequently in the face-to-face mode (where researcher-participant relationships play an important role in the research outcomes).  Both case study and narrative research gather a great deal of highly Read Full Text

Mode Differences in Focus Group Discussions

TQF Image

There are four components to the Total Quality Framework in qualitative research design.  The first component, Credibility, has to do with data collection; specifically, the completeness and accuracy of the data collected.  There are two critical facets to Credibility – Scope (coverage and representation) and Data Gathering (bias, nonresponse, and how well [or not] particular constructs are measured).

The second component is Analyzability.  This component is concerned with the completeness and accuracy of the analyses and interpretations.  The Analyzability component is concerned with Processing (e.g., the use of transcriptions, coding) and Verification (e.g., by way of triangulation, deviant cases, and/or a reflexive journal).

By looking at just these two components of the TQF, what judgements can we make as to the strengths and limitations of the various modes Read Full Text