In observations, also called field research, the researcher observes an event of interest while it occurs. The researcher may even participate in the event or activity that is under study. In such cases, we speak of participatory observation. Conversely, the researcher can also assume a fully covert and distant role and purely observe.
Via observation, the researcher observes the situation or event directly or mediated via technology (e.g., video). This is especially useful in situations that are highly complex and therefore make it difficult for subjects to adequately report on it themselves. Also, observations may provide more reliable data than self-reports when social desirability or shame may influence subjects’ accurate reporting of the situation. Lastly, observations can provide insight in pieces of information that are so obvious and routine to the people involved in the situation under study that it would not occur to them to report on it, even though such information can be crucial to the researcher.
Via observations, initial insight can be gained in a certain context or situation. The results can be quantified. For example, how often do physicians disinfect their hands during rounds, are there differences in frequency/accuracy of disinfection between physicians or situations? Observations can help the development team to identify points of improvement, or assist in making sure that the eHealth technology fits seamlessly with the current behaviour of the end-users.