What Can Ethnography Do?

Yes, Ethnography is a powerful tool, but you should also be aware that it can:

  1. Uncover and tell a complex story of what is happening in an organization, group, or community. Ethnography takes time, patience, willingness to be flexible, and substantial human and financial resources.
  2. Dig far more deeply into the understanding of a culture than quantitative methods can do. It should be used as an equal partner with quantitative approaches, not a replacement.
  3. Test your hypotheses about causal relationships and how things change. Ethnography challenge hypotheses, including assumptions you sometimes don’t consciously know you hold.
  4. Ask and answer nuanced questions about complicated relationships. It can force you to change the questions, or even the nature of the questions you’re asking, as the answers come back.
  5. Create a comprehensive meaning from multiple points of view. It can lay bare different points of view, which sometimes can be uncomfortable for you and your grantees.
  6. Learn how actors, participants, and practitioners view an intervention or project design. Ethnography can show that a project’s design needs improvement or even abandonment.
  7. Feed lessons learned back to the people involved so they can improve their work as they go, changing the course of the work as it goes along.
  8. Produce durable insights into social and causal relationships and community norms, but sometimes fails to predict up front the paths to those insights and the ultimate destinations.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Getting Inside the Story.