What do you do when you need insider and accurate data about how a particular group related to your organization behaves? You set up a research study where observing group interactions and behaviors is the focus.

Observation research is a type of qualitative research method where market researchers observe people’s behaviors, in a controlled or natural environment, instead of relying on self-reported, quantitative data collection methods such as a survey.

Observation research includes three main types of observation research, controlled observation research, naturalistic observation research, and participant observation research.

This post will dive into the definition of participant observation research and the advantages and disadvantages of opting for this type of research study.

What is participant observation research?

Participant observation research is similar to other types of observation research in that researchers watch how study participants interact in a particular setting. The key difference in participation research is that the researcher is also immersed in the environment, instead of watching from afar.

Popular types of anthropological observation research include when a researcher joins a jail population, a religious group, or a gang-run community, for example.

In terms of the modern business world, a participant observation research study could include an online community where the researcher interacts with customers in the forum, when a researcher interacts with a group of employees in a particular setting, or when a researcher participates in testing a user interface.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of participant observation research?

As with any type of market research study, there are advantages and limitations. Here are some of the top things businesses should consider when planning on involving the researcher as a participant.

The advantages of participant observation research

  • Participating in a study allows the researcher to get to know other participants in a more intimate and honest way, providing better data.
  • Researchers have the ability to guide the study if it starts going off track.
  • Participants may feel more relaxed when interacting with the researcher, instead of worrying about someone watching.
  • Researchers can spend more time with participants, allowing for a more in-depth understanding of participant patterns and behaviors.
  • Participants may be able to answer additional research questions as they interact with the group.

Limitations of participant observation research

  • Participant observation research can be time-consuming, especially if you’re engaging in a study where the researcher must be physically present.
  • As researchers become engrossed in the study, it can lead to bias.
  • Sometimes participants will act differently if they can identify the researcher.
  • A successful study requires multi-tasking (e.g., participating, observing, taking notes, etc.), and that’s difficult.
  • The researcher must spend an ample amount of time studying before the study starts and after.
  • Data analysis of observation research is often a much more tedious task than analyzing quantitative data.

However, don’t let these limitations deter you from considering participant observation research. With the dozens of digital market research tools and specialized end-point solutions available in the FCX Marketplace, Fuel Cycle users can save a ton of time and resources on qualitative research and analytics.

Wrapping Up

Participant observation research is a stellar research method to use when businesses want to interact with customers or employees directly.

For more information about tools that will help you conduct participant observation research virtually, check out the tools in FCX Marketplace.