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Birmingham City Council

Built Environment Ethnographic Research

The brief 

Birmingham City Council commissioned this research to explore the impact of Birmingham’s built environment on the health and wellbeing of the city’s population. 

The approach

  • 40 Birmingham residents took part in this research, with a carefully considered sample to represent various demographics.​
  • We structured our research tools and reporting on the World Green Building Council’s Principles for a Healthy, Sustainable Built Environment, which offered a perfect anchor for defining the various components of ‘health and wellbeing’ in the context of the ‘built environment’.​
  • Our method centred on a core element of digital ethnography. ​
  • In a 2-week period, participants were asked to show us 4 journeys that they made across the city by taking photos, videos and voice notes, and writing diary entries to illustrate their experiences. ​
  • The ethnography was sandwiched between two phases of cognitive recall interviewing, where we asked participants to recall in detail their experiences in their homes and give us step-by-step descriptions of a few familiar journeys around the city.

The value

  • Personal connection: Each participant was assigned a dedicated Shift researcher as their moderator, allowing them to build the rapport and trust needed for them to feel relaxed and able to discuss their personal health and wellbeing.​
  • Extremely open tasks: Asking participants to simply ‘go on a journey’ allowed us to see what was most important to them through what they chose to share.​
  • Integrating interviews: Including structured interviews allowed the ethnography to be open-ended so as to pick up on any missing themes.​
  • Depth of insight: The ethnography produced large volumes of rich, personal data, giving a true insight into residents’ lives that wouldn’t have been possible through other methods.​
  • Impact of the research: This research gave the council evidence for the improvement of residents’ physical, mental and economic health, feeding into council initiatives. ​