Non-participant Observation in a Public Place

The purpose of this exercise is to get you started in observation and note-taking, and to give you the experience of being a “passive” (non-participant) observer. You will use these skills when taking notes in the court room. I recommend you conduct these observation during daylight hours.

Go to a public location and carry out a 30 minute observation session.
Choose a place that you think will be fun and interesting; a place that attracts many people and where you can sit and take notes without bothering anyone. Examples of the sorts of places are shopping malls, bus terminals, public parks, outdoor gathering places, post offices, market, museum, café or restaurant, bar or nightclub, train stations, etc. Please do not use public spaces that are of sensitive nature, for examples, hospitals, etc.
Next, simply sit, watch and listen. Bear in mind that you should be a non-participant observer, meaning that you should not engage in any conversation. If someone asks you what you are doing, tell them that it’s an assignment in a course about field research. Observe and record movements, interactions, sights, sounds, spatial arrangements, and anything else that strikes you. Describe as much as you can about the setting. Jot down your observations on the spot, then write up longer versions immediately afterward.
You should spend at least twice as long writing up field notes as you did observing.
You will be surprised at the amount of detail you can record in 30 minutes!
Your field notes should be at least 2-3 A4 pages and should include:
your name
the type of setting
the date and time of your observation session
why you chose this setting
why you chose this setting
you can sketch a simple map (a sociogram) of the room/setting and detailed description of the setting (a verbal “snapshot”)
a description of what you saw; and finally,
your interpretations of what you saw.
The description should be who, what, when, where and why. Conclude with a brief interpretation about at least one organizing principle of the setting. For example:

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What patterns do you see?
Is the behaviour there what you would expect?
What deviations from the general order do you see?
Are some people acting differently or being treated differently than others

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