15.4. A Few Critical Principles of Contextual Research

Obviously, developers of new products and services aren't interested in constructing social theories, so the ethnographic method isn't applied in exactly the same way. Contextual research can be thought of as the commercially-oriented outgrowth of ethnography.

Contextual research differs from ethnography primarily in the time taken to conduct a study, the rigor of data analysis, and the intended use of its outputs. However, several key principles of the ethnographic method apply to contextual research:

  • Empathy for your subjects is necessary in order to understand their experience.

  • Rapport with your subjects is necessary in order to see true behavior and values, not just stereotypes.

  • The subjects and their context lead the exploration and the identification of what is important.

  • Focus on what the subjects actually do as opposed to their opinions.

  • General patterns and insightful criteria for innovation result from small sample sizes and rich, qualitative data.

While these principles sound simple, they are surprisingly different, if not in direct conflict, with the principles used in common market research techniques.

15.4.1. Empathy

Empathy is defined as identification with and understanding of another's situation. As simple as it sounds, our natural behavior is different from this. Imagine the last time you and your colleagues saw someone using your product or service in a way that was not intended. A common response is laughter ...

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