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Introduction to

Observational Studies
Presented by Puvanes d/o Vadivelu

Adapted from "Using Observation to Evaluate Extension Programs" by Paul McCawley, University of Idaho
Involves all 5 senses:
sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste
Presentation Outline
 Observational study defined
 Types of observational studies
 Observation study examples

A type of data
collection that
involves the watching,
inspecting, and taking
note of behaviors and
the environment.
Observational Situations

People Watching People
Observers stationed in
supermarkets watch
consumers check out their
groceries. The purpose is to
see how much “prepared” vs.
“fresh” food is purchased.
Observational Situations

People Watching Phenomena
Observer stationed at the fair
counting visitors moving in
various directions
Tips for Unobtrusive Observation
Be quiet, watch,
Don't explain
Don't ask the subject's
Don't defend the design
Don't apologize
Don't suggest
Don't contradict or agree
with your subject: stay
Qualitative or Unstructured Observation

In qualitative research,
a hypothesis is not needed to
begin research.
“participant observation”
It relies on the skills of the
observer to recognize and
record, behaviors.
Used to obtain an initial feel
for a situation.
Quantitative or Structured Observation

Requires a hypothesis
before research can begin.
Observers are trained to count,
record, and summarize data
about predetermined behaviors.
Can be conducted after
unstructured observation to
increase the reliability of
observations and provide an
accurate way to report data.
Reduces the potential for bias.
Participant observation:
How to do it?
What to observe?

People (individuals, groups,

Physical settings
Environmental features
Products/physical artifacts
Example – Observing participation
in an after school program

Who you will observe:

youth attending the program
What you will observe:
Age, gender
Length of time student stays in the program
Involvement in activities: which activities
Level of involvement
Interactions with other youth; with staff
When you will observe: all hours the program is open for one
week each month during 2014
Recording your observations

It is not good enough to just observe, you

need to systematically record your

You might use:

Observation guide
Recording sheet
Field note
Combination of the above
Sample Observation
Guide for structured observations Guide for unstructured observations
Structured observation guide used for pre and
post program evaluation
Training –
preparation/orientation may be necessary

To learn what to look for

To learn how to record observations
To practice
To ensure that observations across sites
are consistent: observers use the same
methods, rate an observation in same way
Becoming a skilled observer

Learning to pay attention, see what there is to see,

and hear what there is to hear;
Practice in writing descriptively;
Acquiring discipline in recording notes;
Knowing how to separate detail from trivia;
Using rigorous methods to validate and triangulate
Reporting the strengths and limitations of one’s
own perspective
M.Q. Patton, 2002. Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods.
Sage, pg 260
Data analysis and interpretation

Qualitative data = qualitative data analysis

Standard content analysis
Get to know your data
Focus the analysis
Categorize information
Identify patterns and connections
Interpret – bring it all together

PDE booklet: Analyzing Qualitative Data
Steps in planning for observation

Determine who/what will be observed.

Determine aspects that will be observed (characteristics,
attributes, behaviors, etc.).
Determine where and when observations
will be made.
Develop the observation guide
Pilot test the observation guide
Train the observers and have them practice.
Conduct the observations
Analyze and interpret the collected information.
Write up and use your findings.
your observation skills
everyday in everyway!

add observation
to your data collection
Are you a good observer?