B: Observing People in their Natural Habitat

The collecting of primary and secondary research as well as qualitative and quantitative data has been instrumental in driving my past problem-based design projects. As waste starts and ends with people and their habits need to be assessed in depth through the most appropriate research methods in order to make good design decisions.

Interviews have been useful sources of primary research, allowing me to understand new issues previously not thought of. It opened up new ideas through allowing the subject to talk about their experiences, in some cases shifting the focus and direction of the designs. However, I have often felt that subjects will say what they think I want to hear and may also not want to reveal anything that may reflect poorly on themselves, which results in inaccurate data. (Sanger 1996)

The format of a survey has been useful for gathering large amounts of quantitative data. Surveys also give participants the opportunity to remain anonymous, which may help in them being more truthful. This research method is heavily reliant on trusting people taking the time to complete the survey and filling it out correctly. Survey responses can be lost due to being invalid and are open to inaccuracies due to sampling errors and respondents misinterpreting questions. (Foodbank 2016)

Observation is a method that takes many forms, but ultimately relies on all the senses to understand the behaviours of the subject. The moment we know someone is looking our actions may be altered but observation, especially nonparticipant observation, allows the researcher to see how subjects act in a normal setting. (Sanger 1996) Using observation to understand how UTS’s post-consumer organic waste is handled at its very first step would involve spending time in the space surrounding campus bins and food outlets, answering such questions as who uses them, what is put inside, whether signs are being followed and how frequently they are emptied.

 

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(Poon 2015)

A research team from MIT have used observation to understand how pedestrians interact with the urban space. They are using high tech sensors to track pedestrian movements, looking at whether they move quickly or linger tells a lot about what the public believes are the more pleasant areas of the city. City-planning consultant Toderian says, “…it’s about empathy and putting yourself as a designer in the place of the people.” (Poon 1015) The results from this technology aided observational research will assist city planners in designing better public spaces. I cannot be aided by such technologies but successful observation can still be carried out “the old-fashioned way”. (et al.)

Unlike previous research design tasks, in this instance I am not an impartial observer as I too dispose of waste at this institution and this may work against me as going into observation with expectations may lead to blindness of something that should be obvious. As Sanger writes in his field guide to observation, “a major difference between seeing and observing is that the observer takes steps to counteract the in-built biases we all possess”. (Sanger 1996) Proper interpretation of qualitative observation results is key to good data.

Of course, all data research methods have their strengths and weaknesses. It is best to combine multiple methods of primary and secondary research, both qualitative and quantitative data to better triangulate the results and arrive at a well informed outcome.

 

Foodbank 2016, Foodbank Hunger Report 2016, company report, viewed 7 June 2016, <http://www.foodbank.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Foodbank-Hunger-Report-2016.pdf>

Poon, L. 2015, ‘MIT Puts Pedestrians at the Centre of Urban Design’, CityLab, 17 August, viewed 9 June 2016,, <http://www.citylab.com/tech/2015/08/mit-puts-pedestrians-at-the-center-of-urban-design/401285/>

Sanger, J. 1996, The Complete Observer? A field research guide to observation, The Falmer Press, London, UK

 

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