A practice check is a snapshot of how initiatives are interpreted and put into practice by the recipients. It provides an immediate insight into a group of citizens or stakeholders’ everyday life before a new initiative is organized.
There are many ways to ensure that you are in sync with the end users, it can be a phone conversation, a focus group or visiting the practitioners. One of the methods we use is participant observation, which is a quick way to get a nuanced practice check, and which can provide knowledge, that subsequently can save you a lot of research by making the following work far more concrete and realistic.
Make an appointment with a relevant person from your target audience in a certain time slot or during a particular public service. Tell the user how and why you want to observe a given situation, for example when the user meets his case worker.
Preparation - make sure you understand the context. Is there anything special you should be aware of?
When you get there - explain again why you are there and what the purpose of this practice check is.
Follow your user and ask about actions to get elaborated answers on why the users do what they do - and observe the atmosphere and surroundings.
Write down what specifically happens, "Martin stands at the kitchen table and opens a letter from the unemployment insurance fund with a notice to meet with them." Be very specific with indications of actions, places and times.
Note the atmosphere that characterizes the actions: "There appear to be a positive atmosphere in the reception". Describe what comes to mind - "There are many binders, people greet each other."
Write down what immediate reflections / thoughts you have about the actions. "The caseworker seems friendly, but a little supercilious".
Remember to describe your reflections continuously, it makes your observations sharper and easier to work with. You can find a starting point in the template [Observation].
We often use the smartphone to record audio or video of selected actions. However, it is always a good idea from the start, to ask if all parties are ok with that, and to tell them how the material will be used.