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Coaching the innovation team in ethnography with families

Our mission was to help Save the Children UK’s Innovation Team improve their ethnography skills to enable them to conduct research with families and young children living in poverty in the UK.


Framing Opportunity

Generating Ideas

Build & Test


May 2019 – July 2019


The charity was particularly keen to strengthen its Wonder Words programme, which supports parents to enhance their children’s early language and communication skills. Studies have shown that children in low-income families hear far fewer words than those in higher-income families, and this affects many aspects of their development.

The ultimate aim of the project was to help Save the Children’s team find ways of prompting parents to talk, sing or play more with their children, and to create more enriching experiences for them. To achieve this, the researchers in the team would require a full range of ethnographic techniques that would allow them to observe families in their day-to-day lives, to interview them and listen to them carefully, to put themselves in their shoes and to understand the world from their perspective.

We designed a series of training workshops and practice sessions to teach the Innovation Team about the principles of ethnography and how to run an ethnographic research project from beginning to end. Our approach was hands-on and immersive – it was important to give the team members sufficient know-how and confidence to allow them to pass on their skills to others within the organisation.

The workshops covered all aspects of the ethnographic process, including planning, setting objectives, deciding who to involve, preparing and conducting ethnographic sessions, practising methods such as observation and interviewing, analysing findings and translating insights into opportunities for ‘nudging’. The research phase, which took place at the homes of families, allowed the trainees to shadow a Common member while they led an ethnographic session, and also to conduct their own session under supervision.

As it turned out, the team were already skilled at interacting with families, so the training ended up focusing on much more than ethnography. We found it was important to help them with the whole process around managing a project: their ways of working, how much time it would take, who would do what, how would they store the data, and so on. In this way we were able to help them develop an approach that was repeatable and tailored to the organisation.


Katherine Jennings, Maisie Bowes, Edward Gardiner


Design research, Kids and youth, Mixed-methods research

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