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Resources :: Guide :: Data collection :: Data collection methods :: Observations


An observation is generally either an exempt observation or an observation that requires consent. An exempt observation is a public observation where the researcher is watching the interactions of people in a public space. A public space is any area that is not considered a private residence or private workspace and where the participant does not have an expectation of privacy. Observation notes do not use the participants’ names or other identifying information; instead the information collected is anonymous. You are not required to obtain consent from the people you observe unless one of the following occurs:

  • Observation changes from a public sphere to a private sphere (i.e. private residence, office, classroom).
  • Observation requires that private information or identifying information be collected about specific individuals.
  • Observation presents a risk to the participant.

If any of the above is true, you will be required to obtain consent from the people you observe. For more information about consent see Consent.

Please note that you should be careful of taking pictures as they may identify individuals that are otherwise anonymous in your notes. For more information, see Recording Devices: Photography.

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