RESPECT LogoNaturalistic Observation

Primary Reference Source

Loucopoulos P and V Karakostas (1995) System Requirements Engineering. McGraw Hill International.

Summary description

Observational methods involve an investigator viewing users as they work and taking notes on the activity which takes place. Observation may be either direct, where the investigator is actually present during the task, or indirect, where the task is viewed by some other means such as through use of a video camera.

Typical Application Areas

Useful early in specification for obtaining qualitative data. This method is an alternative (non-involving) version of Contextual Inquiry. It is useful for studying currently executed tasks and processes. It has been extensively advocated in the past.

Benefits

Allows the observer to view what users actually do in context. Direct observation allows the investigator to focus attention on specific areas of interest. Indirect observation captures activity that would otherwise have gone unrecorded or unnoticed.

Limitations

Observing can be obtrusive and subjects may alter their behaviour due to the presence of an observer. Co-operation of users is vital and so the interpersonal skills of the observer are important. Notes and video tape need to be analysed by the note-taker which can be time consuming and prevents the task being split up for analysis by a number of people. If events or behaviours which occur at unpredictable intervals are of interest, this kind of observation can become extremely time-consuming.

Cost of use

Analysis usually takes 5 to 7 times the amount of time spent recording events unless a substantial amount of analysis is done in real-time, during off-peak moments. Indirect observation requires access to audio visual recording and playback equipment.

Costs of Acquisition

Observers require training and practice in order to take accurate and complete notes.

Suitability for requirements engineering in Telematics:

Some partner experience (SINTEF, NPL, HFRG, NOMOS). Technique widely used in industry by HCI consultants, and portable video kits are popular.

How to get it

Widely documented in the literature.

Detailed description of method

Naturalistic Observation as a field method involves the following steps:

  1. Establish objectives and information requirements. Should the coverage be in breadth or in depth? It is extremely important at this stage to find out what will happen to the end-product of this process, and therefore to tailor the whole process to the requirements of those who will receive the results.
  2. Gain contacts and especially their co-operation with the process of Naturalistic Observation that you intend to carry out. Establish the times, places, and people who will be observed. Note that in some countries, the law may prohibit you from taking video films of people without their explicit written consent.
  3. Decide on the recording technique you will use. Will you rely on hand-written notes (traditional), audio, or video and audio records? Note that the more complete your record, the longer it takes to analyse. It is useful to be able to make some kind of first-cut analysis during observation
  4. Analyse, summarise, and report in relation to the objectives set out at the start.

Observation as an approach in a laboratory setting is instantiated quite specifically using the Laboratory Based Observation approach. A variation of single user observation is two-user observation where pairs of users are invited to work together and the above process is carried out on the pair. One of the ‘users’ in two-user observation may be a member of the design team, and this is particularly useful in situations where there may be an unstable prototype.



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