Future Urban Mobilities: A Human Approach

Ethnographic Methods

In this section we outline ethnographic methods and their benefits. Ethnographic methods should be designed and used with a trained and experienced ethnographer who is qualified in the theoretical, practical and applied dimensions of their use.

Ethnographic Interviews

Ethnographic interviews are different from standard interviews as they take place in situ in the settings in which people live. They enable us to unpack the details of people’s experiences through verbalized discussions and performances or reenactments by participants of aspects of their experiences and actions, in the real locations of where they are usually lived out. This might be in people’s homes, in their cars, while they are using public transport or in other situations as appropriate for the research question. The ethnographic interview can be wide ranging, and is best undertaken with a check-list, but left open enough for the participant to be able to bring their own thoughts and issues into the interview. Ethnographic interviews are best used in combination with other methods used within everyday life mobility scenarios, and if possible they should be video recorded.

Interviews offer a chance to go deeply into certain aspects with participants in a more intensive discussion and demonstration context. The interview should be conversational, rather than being a direct question and answer process, in order to probe on areas of interest and follow themes that gain importance during the discussion. Normally between at least 10 and 20 in depth interviews are recommended for a social science study, depending on the scope of the research and breadth of the sample, time and funding resources, and on how soon consistent themes emerge.

Everyday mobility shadowing

Mobility shadowing can take a variety of forms, and essentially involves a mobile form of interviewing where researchers following, observing and discussing everyday life activities (or reenactments or performances of those activities) with research participants. It defines mobility as including the journey itself as well as preparations for journeys, and what happens afterwards, since a journey should not be seen as separate from other activities, but as always connected.

In some cases researchers can accompany participants during actual activities, for example a researcher might join a participant before, during and after their everyday commute. Where the everyday activity is not easily joined (for reasons of privacy, accessibility or timing for instance) the researcher may ask the participant to show them how this happens and to enact the process, in real life circumstances. In neither case is this research technique is not an observational activity, but it involves the researcher and the participant together using the activity in question as a probe and prompt for gaining a deeper understanding of how it actually happens and is experienced.

We usually use video ethnography for everyday mobility shadowing and reenactments, in order to be able to revisit moments in the research both with participants and with co-researchers, and to share video in dissemination materials and workshop exercises. Video is especially important when working in research teams and across stakeholder groups.