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A new study just released by a group of over 70 social scientists at UCLA takes the kind of look at the American Family that many of us would love to do - and probably need to.

Read more about the study by clicking here.

The study, which recorded the every move of 32 Los Angeles area families from 2002 to 2005, is being touted as "The richest, most detailed, most complete database of middle-class family living in the world" (by a professor at UCLA who was not involved in the study). Think reality show on steroids - or think ethnography done the way we wish we had the budget and time to do it.

While this study is likely to yield insights and information about the way real families live for years to come, we think there are immediate ways in which the approach and the evidence can inspire researchers right now...

  1. The devil is in the details. Fans of ethnographies know that's the case. To uncover game-changing insights, sometimes you have to watch the whole game. The work of ethnographies can be - should be - tedious. It requires patience. And although in-home ethnographies in the market research space are more often ethnographic interviews than pure exercises in observation, real insight comes from what happens by accident versus what we impose. This isn't to say we should design ethnographies without structure - and without time limits. The number of families who would willingly allow market researchers into their homes for days at a time are certainly rare (and likely expensive to recruit!). But the preliminary results from this study show that paying attention to the minutiae of interactions, tonality and gestures can lead to monumental discoveries.
  2. Space matters. Studies discussed in the New York Times show that researchers looked at not just actions but surroundings. Ethnographies are designed to provide a more authentic look at people by keeping them in their own context versus transporting them to ours, but the space is more than just setting: it's a character in your story. Observing where actions took place - inside or outside specifically - and what spaces were designed for (e.g., a meticulously designed outdoor space, ideal for entertaining) versus what happened in contrast (e.g., life lived indoors) can tell us more about needs and unmet needs than any dialogue might.
  3. Finally, a real family is hard to find. For many good, practical reasons, we often find our focus groups populated with more stay-at-home moms than full-time working moms. We assume that moms are the only ones with influence in the grocery store. We show people with more time and less complex lives in our advertising. And we neglect the ways in which households with two full-time workers differ -and are alike - homes in which parents spend more time at home. And this is true despite the fact that many of you reading this are likely to live in or come from homes where both mom and dad (or some other configuration of caregivers) both worked. With demographics telling us that these dual-income households are not only the majority, but also the future, it might be time to plan our research around their schedules - and think of creative ways to incentivize them to share their valuable time with us.