3.2.2 When to use observations?

  • To collect data on naturally occurring behaviors in their usual contexts54. Observation also captures the whole social setting in which people function by recording the context in which they live84.
  • Unstructured observation illustrates the whole picture, captures context/process and informs about the influence of the physical environment84.
  • To check whether what people say they do is the same as what they actually do84. Both what people perceive that they do and what they actually do are however valid in their own right and just represent different perspectives on the data84.
  • Observation is also an ongoing dynamic activity that is more likely than interviews to provide evidence for processes, things that are continually moving and evolving84.
  • To study the working of organisations and peoples’ roles and functioning within organisations20.
  • To uncover behaviours or routines of which the observed themselves are not aware of20. What the researcher considers an important finding may belong to the self-evident nature of daily life from the participants’ point of view.
  • To understand data collected through other methods (e.g. interviews) and also to design the right questions for those methods54