When we begin our work with congregations and other church bodies, we frequently use ethnographic research – a way of capturing the story of the community from insiders’ perspectives. The word itself means “putting a culture into writing.”
The people best suited to provide the details of the community story are its members. To gather many people’s thoughts and opinions, CI trains a small group of community members (each selected by the community) to be ethnographers. We call them Listening Leaders.
Listening Leaders are taught how to interview using guided and proven questions and by selecting a cross section of the community. They are instructed on confirming the perspectives being shared without inserting their own bias in the interviewing or note-taking process. The interviewee must feel that he or she is in control of what is being recorded and that his or her comments are interpreted correctly and in the appropriate context. The Listening Leaders are responsible for accurately capturing and summarizing each individual’s viewpoints and confirming them with the interviewees.
The interviewing work is deliberate and takes patience. It takes curiosity and thoughtfulness.
The information gathered by the Listening Leaders is shared with and read by trained CI readers, who develop a written story report. That report is then processed back to the community through the Listening Leaders. When the story comes full circle and is verified by the Listening Leaders and the community’s members, our ethnography becomes applied ethnography.
Only when this process is followed will the truth be told; only then will the community be able to learn what it most wants to know: how to make wise decisions, what needs are or are not being met, and what goals and priorities its members will embrace.
To learn more about this type of research: click here.
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