Criminology is one of the fields that rely on research to answer some phenomena. There are different data collection approaches, which criminology researchers could use to evaluate the performance or to understand a specific concept. Field observation is one of these methods. The method entails the collection of data from their natural setting. Investigative experts must adhere to specific elements and procedures when conducting data using the technique. The steps include answering questions that would guide the acceptance and the use of the technique to collect data. The subsequent step would be the determination of the type of field observation technique to use. Criminology researchers could use direct or unobtrusive field observation. The next segment is recording the observations. Field notes have been useful in recording these observations. The tool is useful in answering questions such as the question of who, what, when, and how. Data analysis tools such as Qualitative data analysis (QDA) software, Microsoft OneNote, Scrivener, and Dedoose would be useful in the evaluation of the findings of the observation. The use of the tool would demand the evaluation of its benefits and drawbacks. The advantages of using field observation include its directness and longitudinal nature. On the other hand, the Hawthorne Effect remains the biggest problem of the field observation method. The other issue is the lack of control of the study because of biases and human error. The use of the method is useful in the collection of data, but there is a need for the analysis of its setbacks.
Research in criminology is necessary for the understanding of some phenomenon related to the field. The selection of the methodology depends on the aims of the research. One of the approaches to collecting criminology data for analysis is field observation. The technique entails the collection of statistical information from their natural or non-laboratory settings. This paper examines field observation as a method of collecting data. The paper would focus on the process of conducting field observation, its advantages and disadvantages in a criminology case.
Field observation is a critical qualitative analysis method, which seeks to collect information from participants based on their natural setting. The selection of the use of this data collection is after answering several questions. The top issues a researcher must answer before incorporating this approach include, is the topic sensitive? Is there enough time to collect data? Is it possible to observe the phenomena? Answering the above questions positively would be the first vital step of field observation.
The two major field observation approaches are direct and unobtrusive. The former involves the participants being aware of the exercise. Under direct continuous monitoring, the researcher would record as much behavior as possible. The time allocation approach entails the researcher selecting a place and time randomly before carrying out the research. Conversely, the unobtrusive observation involves secretly observing the behavior of the target population (Alison Bryant, Liebeskind, and Gestin, 2017; Ciesielska, Boström, and Öhlander, 2018). The major unobtrusive observations are behavior trace studies and disguised field observation. Behavior trace studies encompass observation of the things the target population leaves behind. On the other hand, a researcher in the disguised field observation would select to blend with the target group to secretly record behaviors. Criminology researchers utilize any of the above approaches depending on their preferences. However, criminology researchers prefer working in disguise because of the risks of the Hawthorne Effect.
How Field Observations are Conducted
Several elements and procedures must be available when conducting field observation as a research methodology.
The first step is to answer these critical questions “is the topic sensitive?” “Is there enough time to collect data?” “Is it possible to observe the phenomena?” These questions touch on the critical elements that define a field observation research. Proper answers to the above questions would provide proof to the researcher that field observation is the best option. A negative response to the above questions suggests that the selection of the methodology would not yield desirable outcomes.
The next step is the determination of the type of field observation technique to use. There are options for direct and unobtrusive field observation. The selection of the field observation technique would depend on the target population for observation, time, the sensitivity of the matter, and the place for observation. Each of the above field observations has unique features, which the researcher must be aware of before deciding on its inclusion as the method of collecting data.
For instance, in the case of unobtrusive observations, the researcher must operate in secrecy because of the sensitivity of the topic. Research on a stigmatized population would require the researcher to act in secrecy, as exposure would influence the actions of the target population. Covert observation is essential in cases such as offender profiling, where any hint of the observation by the lawbreakers would result in a massive change of character. The researcher could select being a passive observer, a participant-observer, or a full and active participant. For the above reasons, the selection of the type of field observation would depend on the anticipated outcome by the researcher.
Recording of the field operations is a critical step when using field observation as a method of collecting data. A proper record of the observed traits would help eliminate instances of the researcher forgetting the actions in precision. The most significant risk, in this case, is bias and credibility issues. During criminology research, some of the field records include notes and other forms of data collection.
Field notes remain the most crucial field record. The document is factual and comprehensive, and it entails all critical information involving field observation. The approach includes descriptive and reflection notes on what happened in the field. One of the important elements that appear in the note is the question of who, what, when, and how. The reflection segment is important in capturing the thoughts, ideas, and questions of the researcher during the entire exercise. Field note is an important tool in criminology research. The investigative person or body must prepare this document as part of the crime analysis steps.
Other observation recording tools include audio, video, images, and documents. The researcher would utilize audio to reflect and describe the entire process. A video would be critical during the analysis process, as it could be difficult to collect vital data during the fieldwork process. Images are also important in the evaluation of the elements seen in the field. Documents could also turn into focal points during data analysis.
The subsequent step is data management and analysis. The analysis of the information collected is necessary for leading to positive findings. The researcher could select to transcribe the audio or video and record them as text files. Besides, there is the use of software like the Qualitative data analysis (QDA) software to boost data management and analysis Kanygin and Koretckaia, 2021; Michalovich, 2021). . Other possible data analysis tools researchers use under field observation techniques are Microsoft OneNote, Scrivener, and Dedoose. A researcher must conduct extensive research on the available data analysis tools before settling for the best option. In some instances, researchers could select to use manual analysis for simpler projects.
The criminology researcher must ensure the approach adheres to ethical and legal considerations. From the above discussion, criminology researchers prefer covert observations because of their nature of work. However, there are risks of ethical issues with this method. Research standards call for the incorporation of ethical practices when collecting data. Besides, a criminal researcher must seek informed consent. Similarly, the selection of a covert approach would generate debates.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Field Observation
Field observations, like any other form of data collection method, have advantages and disadvantages. A researcher must factor in these elements before selecting to use the technique as a method of collecting data.
Benefits of Field Observation
The first proof of field observation is its directness. A researcher would have the chance of collecting data as they happen. The elimination of the need to ask participants about a phenomenon saves time and the risks of unverified information. The research technique removes the element of artificiality that accompanies the rest of the data collection methods. The direct nature is also critical among participants who might lack the ability to express their opinion.
The longitudinal nature of the approach improves the quality of findings. Unlike the case of approaches such as surveys or experiments, field observation involves the luxury of the extension of the study period. The researcher could choose to prolong the study as part of the strategy to boost the findings. Time is a retraining factor in the case of a survey or experiment. The researcher has to operate within a certain period, unlike in the case of field observation.
Disadvantages Field Observation
The primary con of field observation is the Hawthorne Effect. Participants would likely act differently if they have an idea of being watched (Purssell et al., 2020). The use of direct field observation presents an opportunity for the participants to change their behavior and accommodate the possible wish of the researcher. Besides, it is difficult to observe the behavior of an individual since it changes over time. The credibility of this approach is always in question because of the Hawthorne Effect.
Lack of control is the other risk that accompanies observation. A researcher could exhibit instances of human error when observing and collecting data. The effect of this error would be visible even in the findings. The researcher bias is the other risk. Since the expert records activities according to their observation, there is the risk of the inclusion of wrong information. The subjective nature of the research eliminates the ability of the researcher to collect and present the right information.
The smallness in sample size is the other problem that accompanies field observation. An individual only has the capability of observing a controlled sample size. The subjective nature of the research demands the sample size to be at a minimum. Accordingly, the findings of the research could not be used to represent an entire population authoritatively.
Field observation is one of the most significant methods of collecting data in criminology researches. The vital steps of field observation include preparation, data collection, and data analysis. The approach has advantages and disadvantages, which a criminology researcher must consider before using it to collect data.
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Alison Bryant, J., Liebeskind, K., & Gestin, R. (2017). Observational Methods. The International Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods, 1-10.
Ciesielska, M., Boström, K. W., & Öhlander, M. (2018). Observation methods. In Qualitative methodologies in organization studies (pp. 33-52). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
Kanygin, G., & Koretckaia, V. (2021). Analytical Coding: Performing Qualitative Data Analysis Based on Programming Principles. Qualitative Report, 26(2).
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Purssell, E., Drey, N., Chudleigh, J., Creedon, S., & Gould, D. J. (2020). The Hawthorne effect on adherence to hand hygiene in patient care: a systematic review. Journal of Hospital Infection.