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Mobile Ethnography Makes Observational Research Scalable and Practical

Professional market researchers know there are many sources of research bias.  No research method is immune. Surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews are all subject to acquiescence and social desirability bias, just to name two types.  We all also know that there are simply some behaviors that are difficult for research participants to accurately self-report.  For example, if you ask someone about recent purchases, they have a hard time accurately recalling the process, number of alternates considered, price paid and so on.

Observational methods have always been alluring because they side-step some of these issues. Rather than rely on people to self-report how they shop, problems encountered in the kitchen or steps taken when doing an activity, why not watch them? Ethnographic research to the rescue!

Ethnographic research is the observational method used by well-funded market research departments for decades. And the key phrase here is “well-funded.” These studies deliver rich insights, but require big budgets. You’re not going to execute a significant ethnographic research study for less than $20,000.  And most are well over $50,000.  The cost of recruitment and fieldwork is significant.

But what if we could dramatically reduce the cost of recruitment and fieldwork?

Today we can.  Mobile ethnography applications are now available—making observational research a practical, scalable choice for many researchers.

Want to learn how to plan and execute mobile ethnography projects? Want to try out four different tools for conducting them? In our 4-week course, students will work with instructor Frank Hines to learn a 6-step process for conducting these projects, while trying out different tools as both a researcher and a participant. Check out our YouTube video on mobile ethnography, or learn more at


Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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