Ethnographic Research

RC Systems Lab - Shot by Thom Bartley -

Ethnography n. The documentation and analysis of a particular culture through field research. (Smith, 2011)

Our Methods:

  1. Semi-structured interviews with parents / carers and system actors in Birmingham
  2. Mini Detectorism - a creative child-led participatory enquiry


Semi-structured Interviews

Using the insights captured from our previous 2 years of practical experimentation and shared sense-making from early #RadicalChildcare work, we co-designed a research plan.

A purposive sample of parent / carers and systems actors were identified and interview template developed. 9 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted and thematically analysed. Cultural portraits and interview tools are available from our resource bank below.

Aided by some canvases often used in design research methods, our interviewees mapped out their ‘weekly routines’ and “village map” to help augment this interview process.

From this we identified a range of key themes to help inform the macro systems mapping. In addition, the cultural portraits developed from these interviews were used at the systems lab to connect the participants on a very human level to the lived experiences of parents / carers.



As part of the cultural portraits captured through the interviews, we knew we were missing the voice, ideas and experiences of children. Through mini-detectorism 4 parents / carers and 4 children tested a hybrid participatory methodology to remedy that gap in knowledge and representation.

Mini-detectorism (or mini-D) is a method that draws on both detectorism* (an experimental participatory ethnographic research method), and child development practice inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach**.


The common principles that unpin both these methods are important to understanding how we framed mini-D:

  1. Children are co-protagonists in (their) knowledge production. Meaning they are involved in the co-design of the research process and co-researchers in data collection.
  2. There is parity of voice across all researchers (including carers & children) and equal value placed upon different knowledges and languages (inc: oral and non-oral / symbolic representation).
  3. Use of open-ended questioning, multi-dimensional reflective practice, fun / creative doing-led research praxis, active listening and (participant) observation.

We framed this child centred approach to enquiry around the questions: What is it like to be you, what it is like to be a child, a parent, living in Birmingham and to capture your reflections on themes including (but not limited to):

Journey | Outdoors | Family | Mealtime | Bedtime | Favourite Places & Spaces.

The data collected by children and parents (e.g. scrapbooks, artefacts, drawings, audio, video, photos, interactive voting canvases) was thematically analysed and informed the systems mapping as it evolved.

As with the interviews we used this data to develop cultural portraits of each child that could inform the systems lab process and remind participants that the voice and agency of children is front and centre in the work of #RadicalChildcare. These portraits are available as to download from our resource bank.


*detectorism is a process of shared creative learning and curiosity in action that is open to all (everyone can do this/ all knowledges are respected). Detectorism encourages us to be curious in our observations about the world we want to better understand. This means seeing everything as potential sources of data; and being creative in our enquiry and data capture. It encourages us to be empathetic in our enquiry. Find out more via CoLab Dudley.

**The Reggio Emilia Approach is an innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education which values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge. Every child brings with them deep curiosity and potential and this innate curiosity drives their interest to understand their world and their place within it.