"How can you tell what happens if you're only here for that long?": The tensions of reporting ethnographic findings in a community based study
(University of Exeter)
Sue Lewis (Durham University)
Lois Orton (University of Liverpool)
Ruth Ponsford (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
Paper short abstract:
This paper is based on ethnographic research in a multi-disciplinary project evaluating a community health intervention. Discussion is focused on the tensions around the dangers of making claims in a relatively short time frame and the need to reflect on the temporal boundaries of the study.
Paper long abstract:
In this paper we discuss some of the tensions in obtaining meaningful data when attempting to understand change in a relatively short-term ethnographic study, embedded in a longer-term area based intervention. Balancing the requirements of the evaluation with an ethnographic approach can generate thick descriptions of processes and events. A necessarily limited timeframe of fieldwork however, can provide a perspective that neglects to engage with the temporal dynamics of community relationships and decision-making. This may lead to misguided interpretations of the lived realities of how change unfolds for individuals and communities. We discuss the dangers of sharing findings at particular times in the data generation period without adequate consideration of the temporal boundaries of the study. For example there may be moments of tension and conflict that emerge, which are conceived by both researchers and participants as having a negative impact or a 'dampening' effect on community empowerment, but when looking back such moments may be re-framed as positive and re-interpreted as amplifying positive change. We discuss how we considered temporal contingencies that operated within the areas being studied, in order to avoid misconceptions about the significance of particular events. We also reflect on the place of conflicts and tensions during the intervention process and suggest that a temporal lens offers opportunities to re-vison them as integral to the non-linear process and shifting dynamics of positive change.
Ethnography and evaluation: temporalities of complex systems and methodological complexity