Jan Chipchase gained his reputation as an extreme immersion researcher who specialise in identifying nuanced patterns of human behaviour from dense-urban to harsh, edge-of-grid locations.

After Nokia and Frog, he founded independent studio named after Deinococcus Radiodurans, an extremophilic bacteria that can survive acid, drought and even radiation where others can’t. The origins of its name are deino- (strange) -coccus (berry) radius- (radiation) -durare (surviving). The studio provides discreet international research, design and strategy services to multinational clients with global outlook. After 3 years of writing, he recently launched The Field Study Handbook on Kickstarter in May 2017 about his thesis on why and how to travel and to understand users, customers, people across markets, geographies and cultures.

Field research is conducted to reveal reasons underlying people behavior. In this workshop, Jan shared his approach in running international field research projects: how we could better build and interact with local teams, structure live/work spaces that are optimised for teamwork, and embrace the ethical issues at the front lines of data collection. He believes field research project is only as good as the data it ingests and how we collect data impacts everything the data is applied to. Do properly, it could generate rich and nuanced data which can be used to influence what people think and do. It is important to take seriously the responsibility for effecting that change. As such, field research should be based on systematic, sustainable and ethical approach focusing on quality and intent rather than based simply on scale and data extraction mechanics.

The workshop is organized into 7 topics:

Session 1: The Ask:

We first looked at various types of field study can be used to answer starting assumptions and client’s organisation questions. This includes foundational, exploratory, generative, evaluative, communicative and applicative research. We then distinguished quantitative data to show what is happening (and to certain degree, how) with qualitative data to reveal why. In near future, we may use AI/ML to explore why not?

We then looked at the topic of constructs and credibility: Why should anyone trust what you say. Jan highlighted that researcher should be aware of biases that could impact data collection, processing and presentation. For example, Hall, Trompenaars, Hofstede’s Cultural dimension model described differences between cultures based values and beliefs. Although those biases can’t eliminated, they can be mitigated or embraced.

Session 2: Setting Up: Pull together a team

During this session, we are looking at project length, schedule and activities - what clients think they buy and what they really are. Often implicit in project schedule are ad hocs and hustling activities. An example is to immerse new city or culture using “rapid calibration techniques” in order to generate relevant, richer and deeper insights. This could be done through morning commute, waking up with the city, observing queues, etc. In term of Field Teams and Local Crews, Studio D established Core and Extended team model, which recruit fixer and guides as local ground crews Instead of using traditional subcontracting model. Given variety of challenges of a new cross-cultural team, it is also important to bring “participant first” and “cross-cultural team building” principles into the process.

Session 3: Popup Studios: Travel, learn

Studio D recognized that “team that eat and sleep together has very different level of understanding and trust than those using corporate hotel”. During this session, Jan explained Popup Studios approach that enables speedy immersion, elevating productivity and achieving a state of flow by cross-cultural team. We also discussed principles and process in running Popup Studios to ensure safety as well as to deliver effective and positive experience that will be remembered long after the project is finished. One of memorable ones is to anchor morning routine and keeping up morale by accommodating team’s hot drinks preferences.

Session 4: Recruiting (Participants)

One of the key concerns in participants recruitment is to detect and judge frauds. Hence, we looked at trade-off between subcontracting to agencies, do it in-house, and Studio D’s multi layered recruiting model of participants. At the end of the project, it is recommended to conduct retrospective to map interesting participants and review how they are recruited.

Session 5: Interview Process

Interviews are foundation of field study. We looked at 10 stages of an interview, tips and practical exercise on interviewing process: introductory entry, setting up optimal seating arrangement for interviewer, note taker / fixer, photographer and the participant. Jan also highlighted his interview and data collection principles: “Only collect data you can process - Don’t ask the questions if you’re not willing to listen to and act on the answer”. It is also important that informed data consent is obtained by reinforcing participants well-being and data gathering is conducted within social norms.

Session 6: Sensemaking

Sensemaking / Data synthesis is about breaking down data into parts, creating new connections and finding insights. We looked at half-life of data, which describe the speed at which detail is lost after being shared by participants. To address this decaying accuracy concern, it is important for the team to have session debrief just after the interview. The team could also build data wall to surface and socialise data collected during daily debrief. Finally, we looked at the need for convergent validity or multiple evidence in order to draw sound conclusions.

Session 7: Sharing and Impact: Apply

This is about having value and impact long after the project is over. We looked at delivery of project assets, managing team’s emotional dynamics and having decompression time to close project experience.