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How to use this manual
What is formative research?
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Field notes and observation
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Field notes and observation are methods of collecting data simply by watching what people do. Field notes are the comments written to record what was observed. Observation is a special outing to watch people in various settings to note their behaviors. Every agency collects this kind of observational data. In order to meet the scope of work, most agencies keep track of phone calls made, condoms handed out, hours worked, and workshops held. Additionally, the duration of phone calls, whether people took lubricated or non-lube condoms, and how well a workshop was received can also be noted.

How are they used?

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For most agencies the problem isn’t conducting the observation, it’s making the time and structure to write down what they notice in formal field notes. Field notes traditionally include recording numbers of client encounters, articles handed out, and basic demographics of clients, as well as general observation of the setting of clients, history of clients, and any new or unusual activities noted.

Case Study
  Tutuska.jpg (6034 bytes)Justine attended a training for Community Health Outreach Workers. “After the training I was gung-ho on doing field notes, and then it dwindled off again. I need something that can keep me motivated on doing the field notes. It’s so easy to keep great field notes for a week, but then you put them away and you don’t do them for two or three weeks and then you pick it back up and it’s hard to keep that focus. I’ve started on them and stopped I don’t know how many times. It’s hard to keep it a focus with 50 trillion other things I have to do. If it were more structured, it would be easier for me.”



Justine’s suggestions for encouraging field notes:

1) Hang a chart on her office wall so she could immediately tally her numbers (safer injecting kits handed out, contacts made, referrals given, number of people at the site, etc.).

2) Structure time in her day to include writing up field notes. As it is, she typically goes from 12 to 1 at one site, 1:30 to 2:30 at another, attends a meeting at the office at 3:00, and there’s barely time to do much else in between.

3) Narrow her focus. She’s the only outreach worker with both IDUs and high-risk youth. It would be easier if she had only one population to target, but, barring that, it would be easier if she scheduled work with one population per day, so she would have time to focus and not mix up her notes.

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Good Questions, Better Answers --  1998 California Department of Health Services and
Northern California Grantmakers AIDS Task Force  --