Ethnographer’s digital tools for fieldwork: What to use?

Author: Anna Xambó //


Soon I am going to start to do extensive fieldwork for the MIDAS project. Six different sites from the Digital Arts and the Social Sciences will be observed, including situations such as research seminars, lectures, workshops, lab studies, rehearsals, performances, hands-on practices, art exhibitions, and casual conversations.

My list of requirements for deciding what tools to use for ethnographic fieldwork is:

  • Be able to take field notes fast but detailed to get thick descriptions of the site.
  • Be as unobtrusive as possible to not interrupt the activity.
  • Be consistent to facilitate transversal analysis between the sites.
  • Be able to record text, sound, images or video depending on each situation.
  • Be clear so all researchers of the project can understand the data collected.
  • Be systematic so all researchers of the project can do fieldwork and analyse data consistently.
  • Be able to bring a light portable kit for conducting fieldwork.
  • Be able to accelerate as much as possible the process from in-the-wild field notes to their normalised version for further analysis.

In order to address these requirements, we have decided to:

  • Take advantage of the available digital tools to record text, sound, images or video. Using an iPad will allow me to be fast-paced and unobtrusive when taking notes and I will not need to copy the notes again to an electronic version, if compared to hand writing in a notebook. This will also mean I can record pictures (and audio or video) not only text notes. It also addresses the requirement of bringing a light portable kit, as I imagine the paper notebook did in classical ethnography.
  • Keep an inventory of the collected data using consistent codes. This will allow the research team to index the data systematically regardless of its heterogeneous nature and will facilitate data findability.
  • Record field notes using a field notes template. This will allow us to keep thick descriptions of the fieldwork in a systematic and consistent way. Time to adapt this template on the iPad (or any other tablet device) will be needed in order to save time in the process from data collection to data normalisation for analysis. As reported in the post Mobile and Cloud Qualitative Research Apps by The Qualitative Report online journal, there are numerous applications to choose from for the ethnographer’s mobile studio, which should be carefully evaluated.

For the moment, my light portable kit for conducting fieldwork will consist in the following items:

This list will be revised and updated on this blog as long as the research progresses.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Collaborative fieldnotes in digital ethnography | MIDAS: The Blog

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