Watching People: Observations

  • Lizzie Jackson
  • Michał Głowacki


Observation is one of the oldest research methods and when done well it is a source of rich ethnographic data. A review of two uses of observation is provided in a three-year international project ‘Organisational culture of public service media in the digital mediascapes: people, values and processes’ (2015–2018). The aim of the project is to assist the adaptation of public service media to the fourth industrial—data-driven—revolution through the development of policy and practice. Firstly, city ‘walkabouts’ provide contextual data to support 150 interviews, second young people were observed as they discussed and imagined new forms of public service media. As an Industry Study ‘walkabouts’ of urban regeneration areas and offices assisted the researchers to gain an understanding of the internal culture of firms situated within ten high technology clusters in North America and Europe. The use of observation for Audience Studies is offered in the case of a creative workshop with 25 young people aged 16–20; ‘Generation Z’. This provided an opportunity to find out what data-driven services they would like public service media to be launching in the future. An historical account of observation as a scientific method opens the chapter followed by a short review of its adoption by media and communication scholars. A critical discussion of the definition, logic and rationale for using observation in research that aims to support the evolution of the public media enterprise and related policy follows. A detailed description of two case studies provides two contrasting instances of the use of observation as a method. How to conduct observations, the capturing/storage/retrieval of observational data, and its analysis and use are considered in some detail.



The observations were conducted as part of a three-year international study (2015–2018), ‘Organisational culture of public service media in the digital mediascapes: People, values and processes’ funded by the National Science Centre (NCN), SONATA 8. For more information:


  1. Born, G. (2005). Uncertain vision: Birt, Dyke and the reinvention of the BBC. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  2. Burns, T. (1977). The BBC: Public institution and private world. London and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Caldwell, K., & Atwal, A. (2005). Non-participant observation: Using video tapes to collect data in nursing research. Nurse Researcher, 13, 42–54.Google Scholar
  4. Council of Europe. (2012). Recommendation CM/Rec(2012)1 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on public service media governance. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from
  5. Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Los Angeles; London; New Delhi; Singapore; and Washington, DC: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Deuze, M. (2012). Medialife. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  7. Floridi, L. (2014). The fourth revolution: How the infosphere is reshaping human reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Gauntlett, D. (2007). Creative explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences. London; New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hill, A. (2011). Paranormal media: Audiences, spirits and magic in popular culture. London; New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Hughes, D. (2013). Participant observation in health research. In M. Saks & J. Allsop (Eds.), Researching health: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods. London; Thousand Oaks; and New Delhi: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Jackson, L., Gauntlett, D., & Steemers, J. (2009). Children in virtual worlds—Adventure Rock users and producers study. London: BBC and University of Westminster. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from Accessed 26 June 2017.
  12. Jackson, L., & Pereira, L. (2015). Testing participatory design and responsive user-interfaces to teach digital skills to NEETs: Using an experimental online learning platform. The Media Education and Research Journal, 16(2), 97–177.Google Scholar
  13. Karlsson, C., & Picard, R. (Eds.). (2011). Media clusters: Spatial agglomeration and content capabilities. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  14. Komorowski, M. (2016). The seven parameters of media clusters: An integrated approach for local cluster analysis. International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, 12(2), 171–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kuah, A. T. H. (2002). Cluster theory and practice: Advantages for the small business locating in a vibrant cluster. Journal of Research in Marketing and Entrepreneurship, 4(3), 206–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Low, J., & Bowden, G. (Eds.). (2013). The Chicago school diaspora: Epistemology and substance. New Brunswick: MQUP.Google Scholar
  17. Lowe, G. F., & Brown, C. (Eds.). (2016). Managing media firms and industries: What’s so special about media management? London: Springer.Google Scholar
  18. Mauss, M. (1966). The gift: Forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies. London: Cohen and West Ltd.Google Scholar
  19. Mauss, M. (2007). The manual of ethnography. New York; Oxford: Durkheim Press/Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  20. Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldana, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook (3rd ed.). Los Angeles; London; New Delhi; Singapore; and Washington, DC: Sage.Google Scholar
  21. Morgan, S., Pullon, S., Macdonald, L., McKinlay, E., & Gray, B. (2017). Qualitative Health Research, 27(7), 1552–7557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Muhall, A. (2003). In the field: Notes on observation in qualitative research. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 41(3), 306–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Porter, M. E. (2000). Location, competition and economic development: Local clusters in a global economy. Economic Development Quarterly, 14(1), 15–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Richards, L. (2006). Handling qualitative data: A practical guide. London; Thousand Oaks; and New Delhi: Sage.Google Scholar
  25. Schlesinger, P. (1978). Putting ‘reality’ together. London; New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Schroder, K., Drotner, K., Kline, S., & Murray, C. (2003). Researching audiences. London: Arnold.Google Scholar
  27. Schwartzman, H. B. (1992). Ethnography in organizations. Newbury Park; London; and New Delhi: Sage.Google Scholar
  28. Shiach, M., & Virani, T. (Eds.). (2017). Cultural policy, innovation, and the creative economy: Creative collaborations in arts and humanities research. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  29. Silverman, D. (2000). Doing qualitative research: A practical handbook. London; Thousand Oaks; and New Delhi: Sage.Google Scholar
  30. Silverman, D. (2006). Interpreting qualitative data (3rd ed.). London; Thousand Oaks; and New Delhi: Sage.Google Scholar
  31. Swanson, R. A., & Holton, E. F. (Eds.). (2005). Research in organizations: Foundations and methods of inquiry. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.Google Scholar
  32. Valkenburg, P., & Piotrowski, J. (2017). Plugged in: How media attract and affect youth. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Walshe, C., Ewing, G., & Griffiths, J. (2012). Using observation as a data collection method to help understand patient and professional roles and actions in palliative care settings. Palliative Medicine, 26, 1048–1054.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Further Reading

  1. Baszanger, I., & Dodier, N. (1997). Ethnography: Relating the part to the whole. In D. Silverman (Ed.), Qualitative research: Theory, method and practice. London; Thousand Oaks; and New Delhi: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Gillham, B. (2008). Observation techniques: Structured and unstructured approaches. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  3. Pole, C., & Hillyard, S. (2016). Doing fieldwork. Los Angeles; London; New Delhi; Singapore; and Washington, DC: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Spradley, J. P. (1980/2016). Participant observation. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.Google Scholar
  5. Tracy, S. (2013). Qualitative research methods: Collecting evidence, crafting analysis, communicating impact. Malden, MA; Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lizzie Jackson
    • 1
  • Michał Głowacki
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Arts and the Creative IndustriesLondon South Bank UniversityLondonUK
  2. 2.Faculty of Journalism, Information and Book StudiesUniversity of WarsawWarsawPoland

Personalised recommendations