By Dr Threase Kessie-Finnegan, Ethnographer, Care Team, ARCH

As an ethnographer I am mainly interested in one thing: people. To be a little more specific I am interested in why people behave the way they do in diverse and various surroundings and situations. The influences on their mood, ability to engage with others, their lifestyle, socialisation and capability to live from one day to the next are some of the aspects of human beings that fascinate the ethnographer. Having taken on the role of ethnographer with ARCH a little over three months ago I am still relatively new to the field of Connected Health. I am developing an understanding of the role and function of ethnography, and indeed the ethnographer, in Connected Health. I am anticipating that developing and shaping this understanding is one of those lengthy journeys which takes a long and interesting route to get to its where it’s going, if it ever even makes it to a final destination.

Ethnography word cloud blog

I like to think that I understand what ethnographic research is, what it entails and the value of it. Having conducted extensive ethnographic field work with a group of folk performers in a rural village in County Fermanagh for my PhD, I do have experience of ‘being’ an ethnographer. While doing research with these folk performers I listened to people’s stories and watched what they did in order to try and make sense of the world from their perspective. Conducting ethnographic research within the Connected Health setting seems miles away from the folk performers I studied in County Fermanagh, but I am coming to see the similarities between being an ethnographer in these two different fields.

In the short few months I have been at ARCH I have managed to catch snatching glimpses into the actual role of ethnography and the ethnographer within Connected Health. These glimpses have come from first-hand experience of being engaged in various projects for multiple stakeholders. One role of the ethnographer within Connected Health which has surfaced over the last few months is to listen to and record people’s stories and personal experiences. Having worked mostly with patient groups since starting here, it seems that the ethnographer does not simply listen to the patient’s story, but helps them actually construct it. Their lines of inquiry help the patient think about their care and explain it in a way which other forms of research, such as a survey, cannot truly capture. They listen to the minute details in the patient’s story, hear the pauses and hesitations in their voices as they speak of an illness or incident which has affected their life, and share in the patient’s ability to adjust their life to live with an illness.

Of course, within Connected Health the ethnographer is not limited to understanding and responding to the needs of the patient. They are also tasked with understanding healthcare from the perspective of the healthcare professional. By engaging with clinicians, GPs and experts in their field of care, the ethnographer attempts to understand the actual delivery of healthcare. Much like listening to the patient’s stories, they see healthcare professionals striving to create systems which allow for connected care, across hospitals and local care clinics, with a direct benefit for the patient.

Being an ethnographer in any research setting is centred on building up relationships with the people you work with. As I currently see it, within Connected Health the ethnographer’s role is to connect the patient and healthcare professional’s experiences and help influence the implementation of meaningful forms of technology. Of course, as I engage further and deeper in hybrid projects between healthcare professionals, patients, industry and academia, this understanding of what the ethnographer actually does and the role of ethnography within Connected Health will change. For now, I see the ethnographer and ethnography as a link between all four of these sectors. They are instrumental in the development of technological interventions with a real meaning and the potential to advance patient care.

You can contact Threase on threase.kessie@ucd.ie or call . Check out our website for more information about Threase’s research interests.

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