Research Methods for Information Research

4. Observation

4.3 Work shadowing

This technique can be used in at least two ways. Work shadowing involving two staff from different institutions can be used to focus on or raise questions about aspects of processes and procedures that staff have come to take for granted. Typically a half day session each in both work settings will raise enough issues to justify the time spent. Again, ground-rules need to be established in advance, covering such matters as which aspects of service provision should be considered, how the feedback should be handled and, importantly, who else should share in the discussions or see any report on the activity.

Where it is important for staff to work closely with, and understand, their clientele, work shadowing can open up understanding of each others’ worlds and priorities. For example, short work shadowing sessions in which a librarian observes a teacher at work during a lesson and the teacher spends equivalent time with the librarian, usually proves illuminating for both parties. Education library staff have been able to see how their materials are used in the classroom; teachers are usually surprised at how much librarians get involved in teaching and learning and both get an idea of each others’ work pressures. Better yet, these kinds of arrangements frequently lead to closer co-operation between the people involved around projects and assignments set for students, including joint appraisal of the results.