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 that “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: https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/2015/386081/
For most of us, it is important to write a final research report that goes beyond the questions we asked and the responses we received. Unlike a topline debriefing that may require a simple rundown of the questions and responses, our qualitative and quantitative studies typically culminate in write-ups that provide thoughtful discussions of our analyses and interpretations of the data.
The consumers of our research reports take it on blind faith that the data along with the corresponding questions and issues are reported accurately, and that the researchers’ interpretations of the findings are consistent with both the data and the questions asked or issues raised. And yet blind faith is not always enough. Those are the times when a closer look at what the research actually asked and what is actually reported is needed.
One example is a July 2014 report from Gallup on its research concerning Americans’ consumption habits. The report, in part, shows that nearly all (more than 90%) Read Full Text
“Keep it simple,” “keep it short,” and “make it fast.” These are the words that many qualitative researchers live by as they sit down to produce the final written report for their clients. The prevailing sense among some is that their all-too-busy clients don’t have the time, inclination, or research backgrounds to read lengthy reports detailing nuanced findings and method. Instead, clients want a brief summary of outcomes that are actionable in the short term. It is no wonder that PowerPoint reporting has become so popular. Who needs complete sentences when a key implication from the research can be reduced to a bullet list or an alluring infographic?
But what has become lost in the ever-increasingly-shrinking report is the discussion of research design. Where once at least cursory attention would be given to the basic design elements – this is what we did, this is when we did it, this is where we did it, and these are the demographics of the participants – in the first few pages of the report, this all-important information has been pushed to the back, sometimes to the appendix where it sits like frivolous or unwanted content begging to be ignored. Not only should the research design not be sequestered to the badlands of reporting but the discussion of research design in qualitative research should be expanded and enriched with details of the:
- qualitative method that was used (along with the rationale for using that method),
- target population,
- sample selection and composition of the participants,
- basis by which the interviewer’s/moderator’s guide was developed,
- reason that particular field sites and not others were chosen for the research,
- interviewer’s/moderator’s techniques for eliciting participants’ responses,
- measures that were taken to maximize the credibility and analyzability of the data, and
- coding and other analysis procedures that were used to arrive at the reported interpretations and implications from the outcomes.
The inclusion and elaboration of the research design in qualitative reports matters. It matters because qualitative research has a life, and it is only the researcher’s thick description of the paths and byways the research traveled that allows the life of qualitative research to thrive Read Full Text