Participant observation is a tool used to gain a deeper understanding of a specific situation in a certain location by both observing and engaging in the activities of people within that location. Participant observation, when accompanied by conversations with children and caregivers, can give researchers greater insight into young children’s lives and their use of space.
Older children, accompanied by an expert, may conduct participant observation themselves and observe how people use the space, engage with others, and ask questions to learn about others’ experiences. This can also be carried out in small groups. This tool allows children to be critical about the built environment around them, and to pay attention to aspects that may otherwise go unnoticed. It also enables the built environment expert to analyse the children’s cultural perception of space. For example, a child may wonder why a woman is sitting alone on the street, the facilitator understands that the child finds this act strange.
Carrying out participant observation at different times of day can provide a deeper understanding of the space.
Participant observation can help address the following questions:
- Who uses the space?
- How are people using the space? For what purpose? (e.g. for socio-spatial practices?)
- When are people using the space? How many times a day?
- What are the spatial problems and opportunities?
- What is the cultural perception of the space?