April 10, 2018

Observation Notebook

Make contextual observation more efficient in complex field settings
Starting point

Conducting field research in a complex environment like an entire airport or a construction site can be challenging due to its general complexity, considering the henormous size of the area to cover and the variety of dynamics and behaviours to observe. There could be also restrictions like a limited access to parts of the site or a limited amount of time available to conduct the observation sessions.

Taking notes during an intercept interview at the Venice airport
Observing the different journey steps in the airport one-at-a-time
Visiting a hydro-plant to capture information about safety
What we did

A strategy to guide the researchers and help them stay focused in complex settings is to prepare a customized notebook for the fieldwork. The notebook needs to be designed ad hoc according to the specific investigation areas, and will be filled during the observation sessions with notes and comments collected on the spot. The notebook structure guides the researcher by suggesting data points to capture, but also includes plenty of blank spaces to add extra-elements. The format (printed A5 booklet with spiral binding) makes it convenient to use even when standing or moving from one place to another within the site.

Why it is valuable

The observation notebook helps the research team take as much as possible out of the observation session, giving a structure that support focusing on one element-at-a-time, without forgetting any important data point. It's also useful to align different team members on the same methodology for insight collection, and enable multiple research sessions in parallel.


Preparing the notebook beforehand increases the efficiency of the field sessions because it helps pay attention to the important elements. The notebook concept could be expanded and become a way for research participants to track their own observations before meeting the research team (as a sort of diary study) and support their dialogue or walkthrough in the site.



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