What Ethnography Is and Is Not?

Ethnography may be useful when you want:

  • A baseline understanding of an environment or culture - interest in tacit as well as explicit knowledge, since unspoken or implied knowledge defines a good deal about the culture of the subject.
  • Ongoing, real-time feedback about an implementation process.
  • To understand the perspectives of a group of people affected by a project.
  • To identify categories and questions for more conventional research.
  • Documentation of the subject on its own terms - immersion by the evaluator in the social and organizational structures of the subject, and participation in its everyday events and processes.

Ethnography on its own is probably the wrong approach if you want:

  • An evaluation that is statistically rigorous or capable of tracking and measuring broad changes.
  • A simple count of something, such as number of people receiving services.
  • A data set for which the anonymity of informants is important.
  • An overview of conditions affecting a large group of people, such as a neighborhood or a substantial organization, in a short period of time.

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.