Participant observation is basically the process of going into a setting and… Well, participating. And observing. The name really fits the concept.
Anyways, I’ve done participant observation, before. I was at a Mexican food restaurant in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I ended up experiencing a lot of what this article talks about. I was only there for an hour or two, and I ended up with MOUNTAINS of data to use - and yet, only three or four pages with which to discuss all of it.
The word that I’m really interested in, however, is empathy. That was my favorite part of qualitative research in general, and one of the reasons that I’m so passionate about using it in my own projects. There’s just this level of empathy that comes with sitting down and trying to understand somebody on their terms. Now, don’t get me wrong - hypothesis testing and other quantitative methods are invaluable, but they tend to assume a lot about users when it comes down to the explanatory phase. In contrast, most qualitative methods acknowledge that, as researchers and designers, we have biases and assumptions that we need to challenge, unpack, and understand.
There really isn’t a better way of doing it than sitting down with a person and listening to their story. At the end of it all, that just means that I’m able to go into a project feeling like I have an insider’s perspective on the audience I’m working for