5 Advantages of Mobile Ethnography Over Traditional Ethnography

Joseph Elevado
Jul 09, 2021

Mobile ethnography: man answering a survey on his phone


Traditionally, ethnography as a qualitative method involves meeting the respondents in person to get a closer look of the consumer experience. But with the pandemic making it tricky for all things in-person, mobile ethnography has emerged even more as a viable alternative. 

There may be some concerns about whether or not this leads to less effective results compared to the traditional method since mobile research doesn’t require researchers to be just as hands-on in the process, but mobile ethnography actually has several advantages worth considering over traditional ethnography.


      1. 1. Simpler planning

      Typically, a team is sent over to the respondents’ homes to ask them questions about their experience with a product. This stopped becoming an option not only because of the dangers of COVID-19, but also because of the numerous logistical challenges that came with it: travel times, manpower allocation, availability of the respondents, unexpected circumstances, and so on.

      These challenges are practically non-existent with mobile ethnography. Since the method lies solely in a mobile app or a simple video conference call, both the researchers and the participants enjoy the convenience of relaying information without the hassle of traditional ethnography. In practice, the only major factor to consider is scheduling.

      1. 2. Less contrived data

      One of the strengths of ethnography is that it forgoes the artificiality of lab-controlled trials in favor of a more natural setting, particularly the comfort of the respondents’ own homes. Even still, one might argue that the traditional methods of ethnography make it feel artificial for consumers who may act a certain way in front of researchers observing and asking them questions.

      On the other hand, mobile ethnography is generally conducted by prompting respondents to simply use a mobile device to capture their movements through videos, photos, or text. This arguably feels more natural and unobtrusive than having people watch them carefully as they go about their day. On the side of the researchers, this yields them more reliable authentic data.

      1. 3. More cost-effective

      The costs of traditional ethnography usually include manpower, time, and money. Researchers have to allocate several hours and funds to travel to the respondents’ locations while potentially dealing with traffic and, worse, the possibility of the respondents having to cancel the meeting due to circumstances beyond their control.

      With mobile ethnography, researchers lose only time in the event of cancellation. And even then, such a loss is a lot less likely to happen and easier to mitigate since virtual calls are significantly easier to schedule than in-person appointments.

      1. 4. More flexible

      While there are several methods of conducting traditional ethnography, the universal factor amongst all of these is the requirement to be in-person. The disadvantage of this lies in finding common available times for both the respondents and researchers to convene at a location that is convenient for both.

      In contrast, known methods of mobile ethnography such as respondent environment mobile ethnography and respondent self-ethnography, are tremendously easier to implement as they can be done practically anywhere at any time.

      1. 5. Quicker results

      Sans internet limitations, this more flexible data collection process tends to yield results more quickly than traditional ethnography. The latter involves a considerable amount of time to plan, schedule, travel, and possibly redo the research when necessary.

      Mobile ethnography receives and interprets the data almost spontaneously, leading to a faster turnaround time for results.

      Generally, it can’t be denied that mobile ethnography is the more convenient and efficient method. In the end, whichever mode of ethnographic research you choose is up to the needs of your research.

      Whether you choose traditional or mobile ethnography, you will need a reliable mobile research partner like Civicom to best help you attain the insights you need to advance your research studies’ goals.

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