Table 3

The 3 Cs—Context, Content, and Concepts—Approach to Field Observations

ContextThe circumstances (both material and theoretical) under which observations are being conducted, as well as any historical, sociocultural, political, and other information that may directly (or indirectly) influence data collectionWho is there as observer?
What is your reason for being there?
Why this location?
What is your state of mind (eg, confused, unhappy, tired, excited)?
What are your key areas of (observational) interest based on your prior research experience and/or scholarly background?
ContentThe matter or substance of what happenedWho are the participants? How are they related, if at all (eg, physicians and patients, work colleagues, friends or family members, cancer survivors)?
How do participants interact?
What actions/events are occurring?
What is the timing/sequence of events?
What quotes best capture the exchange that occurred?
ConceptsThe larger theoretical context to which observations connect, either as evidence of or refutation of theory; theoretical insights that emerge from observations (as in grounded theory); directions for future researchWhat have you learned that you did not know before?
Does this observation help support or refute your hypothesis/expectations?
How is this observation related to prior observations or to your reading of the scholarly literature?
What are some potential implications of what you have observed?
What new questions (research or otherwise) arise from this observation?
How do participants respond to the presence of an observer? (Are they excited, anxious, skeptical, wary, etc?)
What historical or current events may influence this response?