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Head Office Singapore: 31 Rochester Drive,Level 24,Singapore,138637
+65 6808 8760
India Office: 880,Adarsh Nagar,   Jogesheri West, Mumbai,400053

How can Ethnography used to Tackle Homelessness.

A key consequence of Covid 19 has been the rising inequality in the society. Thus, the incidence of social issues like homelessness is on the rise. This is also translating in increasing crime and prostitution. Given that it is the duty of every government to provide its citizens with a basic minimum standard of living- the challenge of homelessness needs to be urgently addressed.

Evaluation of the theoretical construct:

Prior to addressing this phenomenon, it is however, important to understand individual circumstances that have precipitated this situation. Based on academic research a range of factors could be contributing to this. To elaborate:

1.    Potential micro factors like inability to find job or employment, no sellable skills, abuse by parents due to inability to fulfill expectations, unemployment, substance abuse, domestic violence, loss of family in an accident or mental or physical ailment, old age etc.

2.    Potential meso factors: Limited support available to house those who are in non- normative situations and victims of substance abuse etc.

3.     Potential macro factors: Cost of housing, Recession, slow economic growth etc. could be also be key contributing macro factors.

Given the complexity of deconstructing homelessness we therefore recommend an exploratory study to address the research task: to find out why are the number of homeless people in the community increasing.

Research Task: Given the exploratory nature of the we would choose to define our research task as “how are different micro, meso and macro factors contributing to homelessness.

Proposed approach: To address this question we recommend an exploratory research that can help us understand the context of these homeless people their persona based on their individual context, values, attitudes and lifestyle and their personal journey to homelessness and put forward a construct to elaborate homelessness in the community.

Given the exploratory nature of the we recommend using ethnographic research approach.

Our goal, as online researchers, should be to make it easy for participants to engage with our studies particularly as mobile ethnography revolves around these studies. Allowing participants to express their observations as simply and as quickly as breathing (or sharing on social media) leads to a better snapshot of what people are really doing and a more honest reflection. Although we want to make it smooth for participants, however, we do need to concentrate on certain topic areas and collect valuable information, this is what we are paid to do after all. The problem is that programs continue to pressure researchers into going 'hard-core' on the latter. This can lead to a phenomenon we often call, ‘The curse of the over question’. 

In an effort to understand each nuance within an experience, researchers can try the impossible and try to ensure that participants respond to everything they might think about. Not only will this deter even the toughest and most determined participant, it will probably pollute the very experience you often seek to explore (i.e., rather than 'organically' shopping for shoes, participants are too busy looking at and fitting around every fixture!). Great mobile ethnography is about allowing participants to engage in their moments, with the researcher having minimal interference, while capturing the critical data you need to make sense of what is happening. This is why science and art are often equal parts of successful study.

So, we get to the 'how to?  The short version is that understanding how much you should ask without 'getting in the way' takes practice and experience in design and programming.

1)      Explore the old with the existing - If you are looking at current patterns and routines, make sure your questions encourage participants to quickly discuss what THEY are doing. Although you can add new ideas or focus points that you would not usually consider in certain questions, note that the more you get them to diverge from their 'usual' practice, the more you lead their behaviour. Create your activity around a key topic or behaviour you want to discuss, and encourage participants to share their experiences through open-ended text or video capture questions. It effectively avoids overloading and leading.

2)      Social sharing - Thanks to social media, the majority of people in today's day and age are used to sharing their lives through text, photo and video. This means that asking individuals to share their experiences through multimedia will rarely be something that they are frowned upon or hard to do. However, this doesn't mean you can go to town, as the above points cover. Instead, consider how your participants might share their experience if they posted it to a friend, and not you, when framing your activity or designing your research. It helps you to keep the activity enjoyable and personal, while also concentrating on addressing areas of interest that might affect the participants. If you can combine this idea with the preceding chapter, you can construct exciting yet informative activities.

3)      Unstructured capture - Often it's the best of old ways. Modern ethnography focused on detailed training of participants and then allowing them to do their thing, with minimal intervention. There's no excuse why you can't do the same thing online, if you have the right resources. Drawing on channels allowing participants to share their experiences when they want to, through video, text and picture, helps them to illustrate what matters. Then probe away to the content of your heart once they have shared. This approach also ensures you are not intervening in the moment, yet (when used in combination with a thorough briefing) collecting valuable user-focused information.

Finally, the safest direction if in doubt is simply to test your operation before you unleash it on your study. Place yourself in the participants' minds (e.g., at the end of a busy day) to see if you feel ready to perform the tasks involved. It all comes down to realistic after that!