1.1 Introduction to Ethnographic Action Research

Ethnographic Action Research is a methodology that combines research with project development. It has been designed for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) initiatives. Ethnographic Action Research is built into an initiative so that it becomes an important tool for understanding and further developing the initiative in its local context. This handbook is designed to train EAR researchers to continually develop and deepen their understandings of communication in local contexts. A well trained EAR researcher will share this knowledge with colleagues to develop the ICT initiative's programme accordingly. A well trained EAR researcher will ensure that there are high levels of participation in both research activities and the programmes of the ICT initiative.

When to use EAR

  • When you want to understand and involve users or target groups, and understand their social, cultural, economic and political environments
  • When an initiative is flexible and will respond to research findings in order to become more relevant to its users
  • When the initiative team will value research as an important and ongoing component of their initiative's development

When NOT to use EAR

  • When all that is required is a 'snapshot' of an initiative without any understanding of the complexity of users and their environment
  • When you are looking for a short, fast evaluation that takes place only at the beginning and/or end of an initiative
  • When there is no flexibility for the initiative to respond to research

Ethnographic Action Researchers combine three research approaches: ethnography, participatory techniques and action research.

ETHNOGRAPHY is a research approach that has traditionally been used to understand different cultures in detail. It is long term and requires the researcher to be embedded in local cultures. A good ethnographer is an excellent listener who is able to reflect upon and interpret what s/he hears and observes.

PARTICIPATORY TECHNIQUES are used by EAR researchers to draw the people they seek to understand into the process of producing, analysing and using research data. Participatory techniques can be immensely valuable to researchers who strive to make use of ethnography not just to understand a culture, but also to effect progressive social change.

ACTION RESEARCH is a research approach used to bring about new activities through new understandings of situations. It describes a process by which initiative workers respond to the new understandings of 'context' that result from the ethnographic research and participatory techniques, by reviewing their initiative's programme and planning new activities.

We use ethnographic principles and methods along with participatory techniques to guide the research process and we use action research to link the findings back in to the initiative through the development and planning of new activities.