Impact of Covid on the challenges associated with ethnographic data collection: reflections on experience as a new researcher

This paper explores the challenges exacerbated by COVID experienced within an ethnography of alternative education. Although it is important to highlight that challenges were experienced pre-COVID, this paper will focus on the challenges related to ethnographic data collection influenced by COVID. The paper aims to highlight the challenges I have experienced. It is hoped that other researchers, particularly new researchers, can utilise these reflections as a source of information. Additionally, this aligns well with the call for more researchers to outline their experiences of overcoming challenges within ethnography (Matthiesen, 2000). The suggestion made by Mills and Morton (2016) that there are as many ways of doing ethnography as there are ethnographers is of particular relevance to the current project. I consulted previous literature for many of the commonly experienced challenges of ethnography from the early stages of the project. However, as a government-initiated lockdown became imminent in Wales, there were a number of challenges being presented that have not been documented within the previous literature. As such, for many of these challenges I was unable to find any of the ‘answers’ I was looking for. Due to this, the use of reflections became of paramount importance.

A reflective diary was kept from the early stages of the current project to document reflections made while attending the research setting. However, as the first lockdown approached, I developed a separate reflective diary. This second diary was used to document the reflections made that were not directly related to the research setting itself but of the overall research process. In essence, these reflective diaries became two separate accounts of my research journey where my original reflective diary may be considered as what Schön (2016) refers to as ‘reflecting-in-action’, and the second reflective diary may be considered as ‘reflecting-on-action’. The paper will utilise reflections made both in-action and on-action to consider the challenges experienced throughout the ever-changing nature of COVID. Some of the challenges to be discussed include; a loss of access to participants, limited opportunities to build/maintain rapport, issues obtaining informed consent (particularly from the parents of students), as well as a range of others.


Matthiesen, N. (2020) A Question of Access: Metaphors of the field. Ethnography and Education, 15(1), pp. 1-16.

Mills, D. and Morton, M. (2013) Ethnography in Education. London: Sage.

Schön, D.A. (2016) The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. Oxon: