1. Overt Research:
In overt research, researchers inform their participants about goals and purposes of the investigation. Often a formal consent is sought before starting to gather any information from the participants. For example, if you are trying to understand certain behaviours of children and wish to spend time with them to conduct research, a written consent from their parents/teachers would be required. While seeking consent you could talk to participants individually or in a group, informing them about the purpose of your study, the questions you are seeking to answer etc. You could also discuss methods and tools of data collection. It would be useful to explain how information that is collected would be put to use in the future. Once your study is completed and you arrive at findings, it is a good practice to share them with your participants, as they may be curious about their portrayal in your report, movie or photo-essay depending on methods of representation you chose to share your ethnographic findings.
2. Covert Research:
Research conducted without the participant’s knowledge is called covert research. There may be several reasons to conduct covert research such as studying deviant behaviours and activities where access to conduct overt research may not be possible. For example, in a study that involved understanding why people poach endangered animals, covert research methods were employed where the researcher posed to be a buyer of animal skins.
In this photograph, the researcher posed as an Ittar buyer in order to get the shopkeeper to speak about the process of perfume making.
While conducting research- whether overt or covert certain ethics come into play. In all instances you have to be sensitive to the privacy of concerned participants. As a designer you must be careful such that the visual tools used do not cause disclosures or other harm to the participants and field collaborators. The use of photography and videography must be avoided when studying members of society that are stigmatized for one reason or the other. For example, victims of sexual assault, witnesses in criminal cases where disclosure of the individual’s identity may mean harm to his/ her safety. Same is true in case of the study of poachers mentioned earlier. A high degree of sensitivity is required on the part of the ethnographer. S(he) must make the effort to be inclusive, respect people’s sense of self, treat everyone with dignity and be sensitive to factors like caste, gender etc. Care must be taken along the way that participants are not antagonized in any manner so as to ensure future access to the group for further engagement.