Setting Analysis

Many times when you are trying to design an experience you read about understanding the “context.” Supposedly anthropologists are very good at understanding context.  Most often it is called a setting.  In light of that here is an anthropological way to look at context or settings.  I call it a setting analysis.  It is old school anthropology. So you don’t need any fancy software to do this, nothing more than a paper and pen.

This is based on participant observation.  This means both observing and talking with people as well as being there yourself and trying the activities. The key to getting the best information is sampling. That means finding people who are good “informants.” Good informants can lead to success even with not optimal situations (like asking bad questions.)

These settings, or social situations are stepping stones to get into “what people know.”

Your research questions are

  • What kinds of people are present?
  • What are they doing?
  • Where they are located?
  • Identity of objects in the setting?

Some good places for you to practice setting analysis.

  • Farmer’s markets
  • Practice session of a basketball team
  • A classroom lecture
  • A checkout counter at a store
  • Auto Service Stations
  • An annual convention
  • A business meeting

This is based on the methods of Spradley-McCurdy and fits very well with design thinking. It is a methodology well suited for novices because it is very systematic. It focuses on understanding domains and themes. One of the benefits of doing a setting analysis is that it gives you good data for making an Issue Board. Similar to the Issue Board in building bridges between different groups, a setting analysis can be used by all kinds of people.

And as a way to go beyond network analysis in which you just look for the presence of a relationship, setting analysis, or social-setting analysis helps to determine the meaning of relationships.


Example of setting analysis for myford

Spradley, James P. 1979. The ethnographic interview. New York: Harcourt College Publishers.

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