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Immersion Research

Through immersion by trained researchers, Empatika offers governments, donors, development programmes, the private sector and others an opportunity to shed light on whether their policies and interventions are relevant and translate into tangible improvements in the lives of targeted individuals and communities.

Emaptika's approach to immersion research is based on the Reality Check Approach (RCA), an internationally recognised qualitative research approach first used in Bangladesh in 2007. The approach uses immersive, experiential and observational research techniques, whereby researchers actually live with study participants in their homes for several days and nights and informally engage with them and the wider community.

"Digging much deeper to see, sense, witness and be part of the unseen and unreachable"

This approach to immersions is based on the principles of ethnography but its narrower focus (on relevance, usability, for example) and the short time for immersions (usually 5 days) distinguish it from ethnography. The approach is based on the premise that experiential knowledge is a critical element of research seeking to produce people-centred accounts.

Through immersion research we seek to understand the processes, motivations, behaviours and attitudes of people through informally ‘hanging out’ , having two-way conversations, observation and experiences over several days and nights in a community. Relying on building informal relationships and adopting the position of learner, Empatika researchers involve community members in analysis of their own situation so that insights emerge naturally.

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A researcher chatting while helping with chores in Ghana

The approach draws on extensive opportunities for triangulation as researchers use multiple methods (conversation, observation, experience, visuals) over multiple days and nights, interact with a range of people at different locations, and work in small teams but with different host families. Emerging insights from the field are collected through extensive debriefing sessions and then analysed into patterns and relationships using Grounded Theory.

Empatika believes that training is an especially critical part of successful, effective, and respectful, immersion research. All Empatika researchers have participated in our Immersion Research Level 1 training that prepares researchers for immersion through both classroom and in-field practicum prior to participating in any piece of research.

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A researcher tries out a homemade paste used as a sunscreen before heading out to the family's fields

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A researcher chats with a family in Papua

To learn how we've adjusted our immersion approach given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, check out this post on our instagram.

  • Immersion research stresses informality for all interactions in order to put people at ease. Playing games, hanging out, casually chatting with family and friends builds rapport and creates open spaces for the researcher to explore topics.

  • Living with families (immersion) means that researchers interact with families in their own spaces.

  • Immersion research values inclusivity and multiple perspectives and team members are trained to find ways to include all voices in their interactions and being able to pick up conversations at different times during their stay.

  • Researchers are trained to continuously reflect on the power dimensions of interactions and finding ways to place themselves as much as possible on the same level with study participants, rather than interacting with people as a typical researcher.

  • Immersion research is flexible in its interactions and often employs the use of creative and participatory methods such as visuals, taking photos, playing games (both relevant to the study subject and simply for fun), guided tours, making social maps and using puppets.

  • Immersion research takes a context-specific lens and embraces complexity and systems thinking to explore particular phenomena.

​​You can also learn more about the background of RCA at www.reality-check-approach.com