Collecting Ethnographic Video Data for Policy Research

Joanne W. Golann, Zitsi Mirakhur, Thomas J. Espenshade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite growing recognition of the critical role of parents in children’s early development, parenting education programs and interventions typically have had limited impacts on children’s outcomes. To design programs and policies that are more responsive to families’ needs and constraints, policymakers need a better understanding of the lived experiences of families. In this article, we argue that qualitative video-ethnographic approaches offer an innovative and useful supplement to policy researchers’ usual tool kit. Taking a holistic approach to parent–child interactions and filming families in their natural environments over an extended period provides policy researchers with new data to inform future parenting initiatives. To assist researchers interested in undertaking a video-ethnographic study, we discuss our experiences with the New Jersey Families Study, a 2-week, in-home video study of 21 families with a 2- to 4-year-old child. This is the first time anyone has attempted an in-home naturalistic observation of this breadth, intensity, or duration. We highlight the potential of this method for policy relevance along with its associated challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-403
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • policy research
  • qualitative research
  • video ethnography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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