Making Ethnography Accessible:

The Theory and Practice of Fieldwork for Systems Development


This page contains an outline of a tutorial originally developed byDave Randall (Manchester Metropolitan University) and links to a number of online resources on ethnographic methods.

Its further development is part of the DIRC TA 'Making Ethnography Accessible'.

Versions of this tutorial have been presented at CSCW, ECSCW and OzCHI conferences.  

The Tutorial Outline

'The Theory and Practice of Fieldwork for Systems Design' - a summary of the tutorial's general aims and objectives.

The Tutorial Handbook

'The Theory and Practice of Fieldwork for Systems Design' – supplementary notes and slides.



The OzCHI 2006 Tutorial

Fieldwork & Interdisciplinary Design

In recent years there has been an expansion of the notion of design to embrace a range of socio-technical issues of varying kinds concerned with spatiality, temporality, sociality and aesthetics. The domains and settings to which ‘design’ and technology is relevant has also expanded to embrace domestic settings, public spaces of various kinds, healthcare etc. The tutorial will address a range of methodological and technical knowledge, skills, understandings and related issues in fieldwork studies as used in the Social Sciences.  In particular it considers a number of advances in sophistication and rigour for conducting fieldwork research, especially in inter-disciplinary projects; developments arising from the incorporation of new or newly relevant disciplines, perspectives and techniques – such as art and aesthetics, ethics and design; advances brought about by the need to adopt and adapt existing methodological approaches to new situations, such as public spaces, healthcare and domestic environments’ and by developing notions of what constitutes ‘best’ practice in fieldwork studies for interdisciplinary research projects.

Tutorial Outline

This is a rough outline of the areas we hope to cover – what we actually cover will depend on participants interests, boredom threshold etc etc..

1. Ethnographic perspectives and analytic procedures

2. Practical problems and support: Video, Audio, and Computer Support.

3. Discussion and analysis based on case studies and scenarios

4. Developing Ethnographic Methodologies – ‘probes’ - you might like to look at this OzCHI position paper on probes

5. Working through some examples of ‘probe’ material – you might like to look at the CASIDE project

6. Fieldwork in ‘Sensitive’ Settings: Examples, Problems and Ethics.

7. Closing discussion

… and if we get through all that in 3 hours we’ll be lucky.. and I’ll be surprised..

The Tutorial Notes

The Tutorial Slides – these are liable to change without warning…



The CSCW 2006 Tutorial


Here are the slides and notes for the CSCW 2006 Tutorial. The slides are far less concerned with some of the theoretical auspices of fieldwork – but – for those interested – and for some strange reason there appears to be a lot of you - these are covered in the tutorial notes.


CSCW 2006 Fieldwork and Design Tutorial notes




The Theory & Practice of Fieldwork

Individual Sections

If you want to review some of the available resources on ethnographic/fieldwork methods.

Click to browse the relevant section. 

This section contains some references to online resources that deal with the various theoretical approaches that employ ethnographic methods of data collection.


This section contains a number of brief guides to ethnographic methods. There is also a number of slide presentations (and that number is 4).


Online Papers

This section is divided into papers by institution, papers by topic papers by project (Equator, the DIRC project etc) and papers by individuals.

Online papers on the use of ethnography1 - institutions

Online papers on the use of ethnography2  - topics

Online papers on the use of ethnography3 – projects.

Online papers on the use of ethnography4 – individuals


Practical Issues

This section is interested in some of the more practical aspects of fieldwork – how we go about ‘doing it’ - including discussions on the use of video and tool support.


Ethnography & Design Issues:

This section contains links to papers that consider the use of various kinds of ethnography as a means of informing different phases of the design process; requirements elicitation, development and that attempt to address the problems of using ethnographic data in systems design.


Developments in Ethnography:

As ethnography has effectively become mainstream new challenges have arisen. This section considers some recent(ish) developments in the deployment of ethnographic techniques (‘cultural probes’ and ‘technology probes’) and the analysis of ethnographic data (patterns).



Always a tricky problem for ethnographers, ethical issues of consent, privacy etc have become increasingly prominent in recent years.


Annotated Bibliography