Using video-based methods in organizational research

special research seminar, organised by Dr Natalia Slutskaya, brought together scholars from a range of disciplines to examine the use of video-based methods in organizational research.

The seminar, which was held at the University of Sussex on 30 March 2017, hosted three speakers – Professor Jonathan Hindmarsh (King's College London), Dr Marlys Christianson (University of Toronto) and Dr Petros Chamakiotis (University of Sussex) – and was attended by staff from across the University.

Work from the seminar speakers and its organiser Dr Slutskaya are being collected – along with a number of other studies – for a special issue of Organizational Research Methods (due to be published at the end of April 2017). The diversity of its contributors – working across a wide range of research areas – serves to demonstrate the extensive potential and truly transdisciplinary nature of video-based research methods.

Showcasing their own use of video-based methods, the presenters demonstrated not only the strengths of the medium but also its challenges: 

  • Video has the potential to be used at multiple stages of the research process. Not only instrumental in capturing initial raw data, video footage can be used to elicit additional, reflexive material from participants. It can also then be used as a means of presenting and disseminating findings, and to subsequently inform future theory and practice.
  • Footage can be analysed with unprecedented levels of detail – a “fine-grain unpacking” of everyday activities – providing the opportunity to repeatedly observe, and also evidence, the intricacies of routine activities.
  • However, its unparalleled richness and multi-faceted density can also be a challenge. The speakers highlighted a range of obstacles, from the complexities of mapping such minutiae to more practical issues, such as the time-consuming nature of analysing hours of footage, or storing such large data files securely.
  • Another recurring concern was participant privacy; filming in intimate settings such as medical environments or within people’s homes inevitably raised matters of consent and confidentiality. However, the researchers reported that in many cases – in the eyes of the participants – the potential invasion of privacy was seen to be outweighed by the direct (and indirect) impact of their involvement. 

Mutual beneficialness, it was agreed, is a key element in the effectiveness of using video-based methods, with studies being proactively commissioned for the purposes of enhancing training and procedures in the workplace. Several participants of Dr Chamakiotis’ study – asked to keep a video diary to monitor their “work-life boundaries” – consciously changed their behaviour as a result of participation. Filming themselves on a day-to-day basis not only alerted them to the extent of their digital activity, but allowed them to reflect on – and make changes to – their habits.

Dr Slutskaya, who organised the seminar, recently undertook an ethnographic study of ‘dirty work’ (refuse collection and street cleaning). The research examined how masculinity and class intersect — how, in a mutually constitutive sense, they produce attitudes and practices, strengths and vulnerabilities, which are shaped by shifting relations of privilege and power. The project used a method called ‘collaborative ethnographic documentary’ to achieve a more democratic, trusting process with mutually beneficial outcomes (e.g. enhancing data quality for the researchers and giving voice to participants’ concerns).

The research paper – titled ‘Better Together: Examining the Role of Collaborative Ethnographic Documentary in Organizational Research’ – outlines how such an approach not only enables the participation of ‘‘difficult to research’’ groups, but also allows better access to the “material, embodied, or sensitive dimensions of work”. It concludes that the method:

“facilitates greater trust and communication between researchers and participants, triggering richer exploration of participants’ experiences, in turn strengthening theoretical insights and practical impact of the research.”

The film footage was also used to produce a video - 'In Defence of Recognition' - with the aim of "enhanc[ing] the dissemination and practical benefits of the project's findings," in addition to publishing the results in a journal article. 

In the film, participants talk about their daily routines and the pride they take in their work, but also the considerable stress their work puts on their bodies and the physical discomfort they often experience. The film opened up the discussions associated with the frustrations of the big city — dealing with narrow roads, heavy traffic, disrespectful drivers, unlawful parking and impatient pedestrians. It also started a more detailed conversation regarding public attitudes and disrespect that workers often encounter. 

Further information

Watch the video 'In Defence of Recognition' now on the University of Sussex Youtube channel.

Read Dr Slutskaya’s paper ‘Better Together: Examining the Role of Collaborative Ethnographic Documentary in Organizational Research’.

Read more about Dr Chamakiotis’ study ‘Digital Brain Switch: Rethinking Work-Life Boundaries’ – an EPSRC-funded, cross-University collaboration – and watch the project videos.

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By: Katherine Davies
Last updated: Tuesday, 25 April 2017