Is it possible to ‘be normal’, ‘pretend I’m not here’, ‘ignore me’?

Alison Twiner

observation-imageAn important aspect of doing research observations is building relationships. We’re coming into the 12th month on the WiSP project now – almost half way – and I first met some of the social workers involved in December 2015. In that time I’ve conducted interviews with many participants, sent emails back and forth, and in a lot of cases I’ve met participants once, or perhaps twice. So when I’ve contacted people to ask if I can observe them, we know who each other is, we’ve had a few conversations or emails previously, but I’m still very much an outsider to social work practice and teams.

This made me wonder, what is the impact of me being in a social work environment as an observer? It’s most likely that I do alter the balance of any office, visit, meeting etc by being there, because I’m not normally there: so do I make people’s work more difficult, and am I observing, ‘normal’ practice? 

Clearly when I’m observing, people know I’m there – I sit in the same room, and am often introduced to colleagues and clients. But key issues I want to consider in reflecting on my observations are, what do people think I want to see, and what do people want to show?

  • Is my observation perceived as an opportunity to get the word out about what difficulties and challenges can arise around social work recording/social work in general?
  • Is my observation perceived as an evaluation of practice (I very much hope not)?
  • Do people purposefully do or avoid doing certain tasks, because I am there?
  • Is it possible to ‘be normal’, ‘pretend I’m not here’, ‘ignore me’?

These are all issues for us to acknowledge and discuss with other researchers as we work through our reflections on the observations. It will also be important and interesting to hear participants’ views on these issues.

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