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Troika: Putting the Camera into the Participants' Hands

Susan Kresnicka reflects on the benefits of using dscout vs. traditional ethnography.

Words by Kari Dean McCarthy, Visuals by Zack Piánko

As the head of Research and Insights at Troika, an LA-based strategic branding and marketing innovations agency, anthropologist Susan Kresnicka specializes in the cultural meaning of entertainment media. In a recent interview with People Nerds, Susan shared her ethnographic approach to cultural media studies using dscout.

What are the benefits of using dscout for ethnography in market research? How does it compare to traditional market research ethnography?

When market researchers first began to use ethnography to understand consumer behavior, they used a video camera to capture cultural dynamics and the context of consumers’ everyday environments. Video documentation is incredibly valuable, but I can tell you that I’ve always struggled with the camera’s presence. I work hard to make participants feel comfortable with the camera, but its omnipresence undoubtedly creates an extra obstacle in my efforts to connect authentically with research participants.

After a year or so of using dscout to support other qualitative methods – for diaries, consumer journey insights, etc., it occurred to me that dscout could be a powerful stand-alone method for learning about people’s everyday lives. dscout puts the camera in the hands of participants. As researchers, we literally get to see life through their lens.

We are no longer hanging out in their homes in the classic ethnographic sense, but we are with our participants night and day. With this kind of 24/7 access, we are learning things about consumers that we have never known before. People show us their messy homes. We see their closets. They take us to concerts and restaurants, the gym and the grocery store. We recently had someone duck into a storage room at work to tell us about something that just happened to a coworker. dscout allows us to be with participants wherever they are.

As ethnographers, it’s natural to worry about getting decontextualized answers using this approach. After all, ethnography is about understanding people holistically, not collecting lots of discrete pieces of data from a wide array of individuals. So we work hard to ensure sufficient context. For one thing, we run most of our studies over an extended period, sometimes as long as 8 weeks, so we get to know our research participants and the broader context of their lives. We also engage in extensive dialogue with them by using dscout’s messaging tool. By the time one of our longer studies comes to a close, we understand our participants quite well.

It's really helpful to hear how dscout can enhance the work of ethnographers. I’m also curious how dscout fits into the research plan of your larger projects. Do you use dscout from start to finish, or does it play a specific role?

We use dscout as part of a multimodal approach. I liken it to learning about the rainforest: if someone asked you to study the rainforest, you’d have to look at it from multiple vantage points.

We tend to construct a study about any of our major topics – entertainment consumption, gender, fandom – with this analogy in mind. We make sure we have a helicopter flying over that rainforest to see its contours at a higher level and to find macro patterns in forest vegetation. Our quantitative research gives us that helicopter view.

Next, we almost always have a focused qualitative layer. We get a little closer, and we study the canopy, which is just one tier in that rain forest. We tend not to use dscout at this level. Instead, we'll use a method like one-on-one interviews or focus groups, where we pose a discrete set of questions to result in targeted learning.

Finally, when it’s time to explore the rainforest floor, we turn to dscout and ethnographic research. At this level, we actually see the organic processes that give life to the entire forest from the ground up.

Clients (or their internal stakeholders) may not always share the anthropologist's fundamental fascination with the “why” behind people’s behaviors and thoughts, or they may question the value of qualitative research, in general. What do you tell clients who have concerns about qualitative or ethnographic research?

There are always clients who put more faith in quantitative research, and, as you point out, they can be skeptical, or even mistrusting, of qualitative methods. We purposefully design our projects with a strong mix of qualitative and quantitative methodologies to assuage our clients’ concerns.

We explain to clients that a platform like dscout, which allows for hybridization of qualitative and quantitative methods, helps us feel comfortable with the smaller sample size and the representation we see. We also emphasize that our findings aren’t limited to survey responses. This is why dscout has become such an essential tool in my repertoire: it offers depth, emotion, access, and context.


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