Conducting a team-based multi-sited focused ethnography in primary care
© 2017 The Author(s). Focused ethnography is an applied and pragmatic form of ethnography that explores a specific social phenomenon as it occurs in everyday life. Based on the literature a problem-focused research question is formulated before the data collection. The data generation process targets key informants and situations so that relevant results on the pre-defined topic can be obtained within a relatively short time-span. As part of a theory based evaluation of alternative forms of consultation (such as video, phone and email) in primary care we used the focused ethnographic method in a multisite study in general practice across the UK. To date there is a gap in the literature on using focused ethnography in healthcare research. The aim of the paper is to build on the various methodological approaches in health services research by presenting the challenges and benefits we encountered whilst conducing a focused ethnography in British primary care. Our considerations are clustered under three headings: constructing a shared understanding, dividing the tasks within the team, and the functioning of the focused ethnographers within the broader multi-disciplinary team. As a result of using this approach we experienced several advantages, like the ability to collect focused data in several settings simultaneously within in a short time-span. Also, the sharing of experiences and interpretations between the researchers contributed to a more holistic understanding of the research topic. However, mechanisms need to be in place to facilitate and synthesise the observations, guide the analysis, and to ensure that all researchers feel engaged. Reflection, trust and flexibility among the team members were crucial to successfully adopt a team focused ethnographic approach. When used for policy focussed applied healthcare research a team-based multi-sited focused ethnography can uncover practices and understandings that would not be apparent through surveys or interviews alone. If conducted with care, it can provide timely findings within the fast moving context of healthcare policy and research.