Observation refers to the systematic examination of program processes or operations with the goal of identifying needs/challenges or improving program processes and practices. Observations typically incorporate a prescribed protocol containing specific measures of observable behavior and the narrative recording of the program activities and their context. Types of observational approaches include: check lists, scaled ratings, interval observations, and narrative comments. [more]
Suggested uses of observations:
- Observation is especially useful when combined with the examination of program documents ( see document analysis).
- Gaining insight by describing program activities or identifying needs or challenges in the program.
- Assessing changes in program practices especially when used as part of a single-group experiment.
- Developing ideas for future evaluation by using observational data to help focus other evaluation instruments such as surveys.
Limitations of observations:
- Should be used in conjunction with other methods.
- Largely descriptive.
Implementing this method requires moderate resources: developing an observational protocol, hiring an experienced assistant or finding a colleague to conduct multiple observations, taking the time to discuss each observation with the observer, and compiling and analyzing the data gathered. [more]
Plan your observation
STEP 1. Describe the context
Include the age, majors, educational background, motivation level, and skill levels of students/clients. Also consider central goals of the program, your ability to implement changes, and how the organizational context impacts your program. A worksheet is available to help you document your program context.
STEP 2. Identify stakeholder needs and develop central questions
Identify what is most essential for clients, program staff, and any organizational priorities that impact your program. Central questions, informed by these needs, specify what you want to learn from an evaluation. A worksheet is available to help you identify stakeholder needs and develop central questions.
STEP 3. Determine the purpose of the observation
Your observational study should have a clear purpose and focus. Using your central questions as a guide, specify how your observation will help you gain insight, change course practices, or measure the effects of a change you have implemented. A worksheet is available to help you develop and refine your study’s purposes.
STEP 4. Determine how you will use the results
How you intend to use results should also guide the focus of your observations. Focus observations on only those program components you are willing to adjust or change. A worksheet is available to help exemplify how to use results after determining the purpose of a study.
STEP 5. Develop an observation form
Create an observation form appropriate to context, purpose, and use that will answer your central questions. Once your form is complete, perform multiple observations of the program activity or setting. Vary the times and days you observe. Observe for at least a 30 minute interval. Meet with program staff prior to the observation to gather relevant program materials, information about the program activity or context, and the goals for the activity being observed.
Lofland, J. & Lofland, L. H. (1995). Analyzing Social Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.