Participant observation

Participant observation is used to identify the attitudes and operation of a community by a researcher living within its environs.

"The participant observer becomes known within the community, and gets to know the community in a more intimate and detailed way than someone who simply comes to do a survey and then departs. The participant observer consequently is given much more detailed information, and may identify specific issues and assist groups to address these by developing mutually agreed principles and practices.

Objectives: A participant observer is placed in a community with the aim of collecting more detailed information about a community’s habits, opinions and issues and with a view to developing planning and policies that better incorporate the community’s needs and wishes.

Outcomes: Information about a community collected by a participant observer can ensure that planning and decision making incorporates community needs and opinions, and will therefore be more acceptable and more useful to the community." (Department of Sustainability and Environment, 2005).

Advice for using this method

  • Researcher lives in or regularly visits the site/suburb/organisation.
  • Observations are made by the researcher regarding opinions or reactions to particular issues.
  • Researchers should state their intentions openly, and integrate themselves into the community.
  • The conclusions drawn by the researcher depend largely on the researcher’s abilities, and should be seen within this context.
  • Generally, participant observation should be combined with actual participation techniques to be of any value.


Department of Sustainability and Environment (2005). Book 3: The Engagement Toolkit. Effective Engagement: building relationships with community and other stakeholders, The Community Engagement Network Resource and Regional Services Division Victorian Government Department of Sustainability and Environment. Retrieved from

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