Field research is defined as a method of data collection whose objective is to observe, interact and understand subjects while they are in a natural environment. For example, nature conservationists observe the behavior of animals in their natural environment and how they react to certain scenarios. Similarly, social scientists conducting field research may conduct interviews or observe people from a distance to understand how they behave in a social setting and how they react to situations around them.
It encompasses a wide range of social research methods, such as direct observation, limited participation, analysis of documents and other information, informal interviews, surveys, etc. Although field research is often characterized as qualitative research, it often includes multiple aspects of quantitative research.
Field research usually begins in a specific environment, although the ultimate goal of the study is to observe and analyze the specific behavior of a subject in that environment. However, the cause and effect of a certain behavior are difficult to analyze due to the presence of multiple variables in a natural environment. Most data collection is not entirely based on cause and effect, but mostly on correlation. Although field research looks for correlation, the small sample size makes it difficult to establish a causal relationship between two or more variables.
Field Research Methods
Field research is usually carried out with 5 different methods. They are the following
In this method, data is collected through an observational method or from subjects in a natural setting. In this method, the behavior or the outcome of the situation is not interfered with in any way by the researcher. The advantage of direct observation is that it provides contextual data about people, situations, interactions, and the environment. This field research method is widely used in a public setting, but not in a private setting as it poses an ethical dilemma.
In this field research method, the researcher is deeply involved in the research process, not only as an observer, but also as a participant. This method is also carried out in a natural environment, but the only difference is that the researcher is involved in the discussions and can shape the direction of the discussions. In this method, the researchers live in a comfortable environment with the research participants, so that they feel comfortable and open to in-depth discussions.
Ethnography is an expanded observation of social research and the social perspective and cultural values of an entire social environment. In ethnography, entire communities are objectively observed. For example, if a researcher wants to understand how a tribe in the Amazon lives and functions, he may choose to observe them or live among them and quietly observe their daily behavior.
Surveys and Interviews
Surveys are closed questions that are asked directly to the research subjects. Qualitative interviews can be informal and conversational, semi-structured, standardized and open, or a mixture of the previous three. This provides the researcher with a large amount of data that he can classify. It also helps collect relational data. This field research method may use a mixture of individual interviews, focus groups, and text analysis.
Study of cases
A case study investigation is an in-depth analysis of a person, situation, or event. This method may seem unwieldy, however it is one of the easiest ways to conduct research as it involves a deep dive and comprehensive knowledge of data collection and inference methods.
Steps to conduct a field investigation
Due to the nature of field research, the magnitude of timelines and the costs involved, field research can be very difficult to plan, execute and measure. Some basic steps in managing field research are
Assemble the right team
In order to carry out field research, it is important to have the right equipment. The role of the researcher and the auxiliary members of the team is very important, as well as the definition of the tasks that they have to carry out with defined relevant milestones. It is important that senior management is also involved in field research for it to be successful.
Hiring people for the study
The success of field research depends on the people on whom the study is conducted. Using sampling methods, it is important to derive the people who will be part of the study.
Data collection methodology
As already mentioned, data collection methods for field research are varied. They can be a mix of surveys, interviews, case studies and observation. All these methods have to be calibrated and the milestones of each method also have to be calibrated at the beginning. For example, in the case of a survey, it is important that the survey design is created and tested before the research even begins.
The site visit is important to the success of field research and is always conducted outside of traditional locations and in the actual natural environment of the respondents. Therefore, it is important to plan a site visit along with data collection methods.
The analysis of the collected data is important to validate the premise of the field investigation and decide its outcome.
Communication of results
Once the data has been analyzed, it is important to communicate the results to the research stakeholders so that they can take action.
Field Research Notes
Keeping an ethnographic record is very important for conducting field research. Field notes are one of the most important aspects of the ethnographic record. The field note process begins when the researcher participates in the observational research process to be written later.
Types of field research notes
The four different types of field notes are
This method of note taking is done while the researcher is in the study. It can be in close proximity and within sight of the subject under study. The notes are short, concise and condensed, and the researcher can expand on them later. However, most researchers do not prefer this method for fear of feeling that the respondent does not take them seriously.
Field notes proper
These notes should be expanded immediately after the completion of the events. The notes must be detailed and the words must be as similar as possible to the topic studied.
These notes contain methods on the research methods used by the researcher, proposed new research methods, and how to monitor their progress. Methodological notes can be kept together with field notes or filed separately, but they carry through to the final report of a study.
Diaries and notebooks
This method of field notes is an insight into the life of the researcher. It enables all aspects of the investigator’s life to be tracked and helps to eliminate the Halo effect or any bias that may have arisen during the field investigation.
Reasons for conducting field research
Field research has been commonly used in the 20th century in the social sciences. But, in general, it is time-consuming to perform and complete, expensive and, in many cases, invasive. So why is it commonly used and preferred by researchers to validate data? We analyze 4 main reasons:
Overcome data gaps
Field research solves the great problem of lack of data. Very often, data on a topic under study is limited or non-existent, especially in a specific setting. The problem may be known or suspected, but there is no way to validate it without research and primary data. Conducting field research not only helps to fill in data gaps, but also to collect supporting material, making it one of the preferred research methods for researchers.
Understand the context of the study
In many cases, the data collected is adequate, but field research is still being carried out. This helps to understand the existing data. For example, if the data says that horses in a stable often win races because the horses have pedigrees and the stable owner hires the best jockeys. But conducting field research can shed light on other factors that influence success, such as forage quality and care provided and favorable weather conditions.
Increased data quality
As this research method uses more than one tool to collect data, the data is of higher quality. Inferences can be made from the collected data and can be statistically analyzed by triangulating the data.
Collection of auxiliary data
Field research puts researchers in a position of localized thinking that opens up new lines of thought. This can help collect data that the study did not intend to collect.
Field Research Examples
Some examples of field research are
Deciphering social metrics in a slum
Using purely observational methods and in-depth interviews, researchers can be part of a community to understand the social metrics and social hierarchy of a slum. This study can also understand financial independence and the day-to-day operational nuances of a neighborhood. Analysis of these data can provide insight into how different a slum is from structured societies.
Understand the impact of sport on child development
This field research method requires several years of work and the sample size can be very large. The analysis of the data from this research allows us to understand how children from different geographical locations and origins respond to sports and the impact of these on their integral development.
Study the migration patterns of animals
Field research is widely used to study flora and fauna. An important case is that of scientists who monitor and study the migration patterns of animals with the change of season. Field research helps collect data over the years and that helps draw conclusions on how to expedite the safe passage of animals.
Advantages of field research
The advantages of field research are:
- It takes place in a real and natural environment where variables are not manipulated and the environment is not manipulated.
- Because the study is conducted in a comfortable setting, data can be collected even on ancillary topics.
- The researcher acquires a deep knowledge of the subjects of the investigation due to the proximity with them and, therefore, the investigation is wide, exhaustive and precise.
Disadvantages of field research
The disadvantages of field research are:
- Studies are expensive and time consuming and can take years to complete.
- It is very difficult for the researcher to distance himself from a bias in the research study.
- The notes have to be exactly what the researcher says, but the nomenclature is very difficult to follow.
- It is an interpretive method and this is subjective and depends entirely on the ability of the researcher.
- In this method it is impossible to control external variables and this constantly alters the nature of the investigation.