How to do field observations?

Picture_001_0.jpgField observations are a method where you observe people in ‘real’ locations and situations, such as workplaces, homes, etc.  They can be particularly helpful if the causes of 'wasteful' energy behaviour are not clear to you. Field observations help you to understand people's behaviour, habits, needs and social relations in their environment. Field observations can give you unique information, because you don’t have to rely on other’s verbal interpretations of situations, but you can see it for yourself! If your field observation is successful, you can have plenty of new ideas and a valuable knowledge base for your project.

What you need to do: 
  • You have to have a permission to observe in the location that you have selected. You should be open with your purposes, but be careful not to disturb people.
  • You should familiarize yourself with location personally and observe the actions that take place.
  • While observing, make notes of what you have seen and heard (pen & paper). In addition to written notes, you can also record your observations by using a video camera or an audio recorder (if you have permission).
  • Try to separate the ‘roles’ of an observer and a project manager. When you are in the field, you shouldn’t let your preconceptions skew your observations. At this point, your aim is only to understand the locations and situations. Only after that you should ‘return’ to your role as a project manager, and try to solve the problems etc. that you encountered in the field.
  • After your field observations, you should also analyze your data so that you can get meaningful information out of it.
  • Field observations are not necessarily sufficient source of data, you might have to do also interviews to understand the reasons behind people’s actions.
When does it work?: 
  • Field observations are more suited to the planning phase of a project, when you want to acquaint yourself to your target group and their context.
  • Field observations are also useful when you want to further develop your project because it allows you to observe how your project is ‘functioning’ in certain locations and situations.
What do you need to look out for: 
  • Even small scale field observations might take quite a lot of time, and you’re not guaranteed to get the results that you need. So you have to weigh up carefully if this is the method that you want to use.

Template / Checklist:

Manual and checklist for field observations