Observation is one way to collect primary data. It is a purposeful, systematic and selective way of watching and listening to an interaction or phenomenon as it takes place. There are many situations in which observation is the most appropriate method of data collection; for example, when you want to learn about the interaction in a group, study the dietary patterns of a population, ascertain the functions performed by a worker , or study the behaviour or personality traits of an individual. it is also appropriate in situations where full and/or accurate information cannot be elicited by questioning, because respondents either are not co-operative or are unaware of the answer because it is difficult for them to detach themselves from the interaction. in summary, when you are more interested in the behaviour than in the
perceptions of individuals, or when subjects are so involved in the interaction that they are unable to provide objective information about it, observation is the best approach to collect the required information.
Types of observation – there are two types of observation:
a. Participant observation
b. Non-participant observation
Participant observation is when you, as a researcher, participate in the activities of the group observed in the same manner as its members, with or without their knowing that they are being observed.
For example, you might want to examine the reactions of the general population toward people in wheelchairs. you can study their reactions by sitting in a wheelchair yourself of you might want to study the life of prisoners and pretend to be a prisoner in order to do this.
Non-participant observation is when you, as researcher, do not get involved in the activities of the group but remains a passive observer, watching and listening to its activities and drawing conclusions from this.
For example, you might want to study the functions carried out by a worker in a Railway station. As an observe, you could watch, follow, and record the activities as they are performed. After making a number of observation, conclusions could be drawn about the function carry out in the railway station. Any occupational group in any setting can be observed in the same manner.
Problems with using observation as a method of data collection
The use of observation as a method of data collection may suffer from a number of problems, which is not to suggest that all or any of these necessarily prevails in every situation. But as a beginner you should be aware of these problems.
When individuals or groups become aware that they are being observed, they may change their behaviour. Depending upon the situation, this change could be positive or negative – it may increase or decrease, for example, their productivity and may occur for a number of reasons. When a change in the behaviour of person or groups is attributed to their being observed it is known as the Hawthome Effect. The use of observation in such a situation may introduce distortion: What is observed may not
represent their normal behaviour.
There is always the possibility of observer bias. If an observer is biased, she/he can easily introduce bias and there is no easy way to verify the observations and the interference drawn from them
The interpretation draws from observations may vary from observer to observer. There is the possibility of incomplete observation and/or recording, which varies with the method of recording. an observer may watch keenly but at the expense of detailed recording. The opposite problem may occur when the observer takes detailed notes but in doing so misses some of the interaction. Situations in which observations can be made observations can be made under two conditions:
Observing a group in its natural operation rather than interviewing in its activities is classified as observation under natural condition. Introducing a stimulus to the group for in to react to and observing the reaction is called controlled observation.
Recording of Observation
There are many ways of recording observation. The selection of a method of recording depends upon the purpose of the observation. Keep in mind the each method has its advantages and disadvantages.
Narrative – in this form of recording the researcher records a description of the interaction in his/her own words. Usually, he/she makes brief notes while observing the interaction and soon after the observation makes detailed notes in narrative form. In addition, some researchers may interpret the interaction and draw conclusions from it. The biggest advantage of narrative recording it that it provides a deeper insight into the interaction. However, a disadvantage is that an observer may be biased in his/her observation and, therefore, the interpretations and conclusions drawn from the observation may also be biased. Also, if a researcher’s attention is on observing, he/she might forget to record an important piece of interaction and, obviously, in the process of recording, part of the interaction may be missed. Hence, there is always the possibility of incomplete recording and/or observation> In addition, with different observers the comparability of narrative recording can be a problem.
Scales – at times some observers may prefer to develop a scale in order to rate various aspects of the interaction or phenomenon. The recording is done on a scale developed by the observer/researcher. A scale may be one, two or three directional, depending upon the purpose of the observation.