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So how do you brush your teeth in the morning?

Gaining insights into behaviour through shadowing

Are you aware of every single move the toothbrush makes in your mouth every morning? You probably won’t be able to answer this question objectively, since we aren’t always aware of our own attitudes and behaviour. This poses a great challenge for market research. Katja Behnisch and Tanja Schröder, certified facilitator Design Thinking, of Produkt + Markt explain in planung + analyse, how one can overcome this issue with the help of a specific ethnographic approach: Shadowing.

Attitudes and behaviour reported by patients during interviews, do not always represent the truth; they rather depict the patient’s image of himself. He isn’t always aware of the problems he is dealing with in everyday life, and therefore he can online provide a limited insight into his mind. The motives for his behaviour often lie much deeper than right at the surface of the conscious perception. Hence one cannot determine them exclusively with words. A lot of times a patient doesn’t know why he chooses a certain blood glucose meter over another, or if he really takes his medicine regularly, or what keeps him from doing so. Some things simply happen intuitively: Are you aware of your toothbrush’s every single move in your mouth while brushing? Or aren’t your thoughts somewhere else? How close to reality would your answer be when asked about the toothbrush and its movements and its angle in your mouth?

Shadowing is an ethnographic method used to observe the patient’s actions and reactions in his own environment. The market researcher spends up to half a day with the patient in his home and observes all processes relevant to the question. When observing a diabetes patient, this may include measuring his blood sugar, taking his medicine, or the preparation of his meals. This way we can broaden the perspective, which thus paints an authentic picture of the patient’s behaviour, experience, and his actions directly taken from the patient’s real life (natural setting, usual habitat). Real, complex, but also inconsistent behaviour becomes comprehensible and “comes alive”. This provides new starting points for the analysis of underlying causes. This multi-method approach is based on a combination of participatory observation and qualitative interviews. The dynamic interaction of the two methods is particularly important since the focus is on the patient in his environment, and not on the conversation guide. While the topics do need to be defined with respect to the objective of the study, it is, however, primarily necessary to individually respond to the patient. Therefore this method puts high requirements on the qualifications of the interviewers: empathy and attention, flexibility, concentration, and as little exertion of influence on the events as possible. Shadowing cannot be equated with an in-home interview; actually, the moderator temporarily becomes a part of the patient’s life. Therefore the timeframe has to be set for longer or even in recurring sequences, depending on the objective. Also: the patient’s milieu can be incorporated as well. Thus real behaviour and interactions become comprehensible for market researchers – without possible misinterpretations or bias from strictly cognitive statements.

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