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Appears in Collections:Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport Journal Articles
Peer Review Status: Refereed
Title: Covert observation in practice: lessons from the evaluation of the prohibition of smoking in public places in Scotland
Author(s): Petticrew, Mark
Semple, Sean
Hilton, Shona
Creely, Karen S
Eadie, Douglas
Ritchie, Deborah
Ferrell, Catherine
Christopher, Yvette
Hurley, Fintan
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Issue Date: Aug-2007
Citation: Petticrew M, Semple S, Hilton S, Creely KS, Eadie D, Ritchie D, Ferrell C, Christopher Y & Hurley F (2007) Covert observation in practice: lessons from the evaluation of the prohibition of smoking in public places in Scotland, BMC Public Health, 7 (1), p. 204.
Abstract: Background: A ban on smoking in wholly or substantially enclosed public places has been in place in Scotland since 26th March 2006. The impact of this legislation is currently being evaluated in seven studies, three of which involve direct observation of smoking in bars and other enclosed public places. While the ethical issues around covert observation have been widely discussed there is little practical guidance on the conduct of such research. A workshop was therefore convened to identify practical lessons learned so far from the Scottish evaluation. Methods: We convened a workshop involving researchers from the three studies which used direct observation. In addition, one of the fieldwork managers collected written feedback on the fieldwork, identifying problems that arose in the field and some solutions. Results: There were four main themes identified: (i) the difficulty of achieving and maintaining concealment; (ii) the experience of being an observer; (iii) the risk of bias in the observations and (iv) issues around training and recruitment. These are discussed. Conclusion: Collecting covert observational data poses unique practical challenges, in particular in relation to the health and safety of the researcher. The findings and solutions presented in this paper will be of value to researchers designing similar studies.
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Rights: Published in BMC Public Health by BioMed Central Ltd.; © 2007 Petticrew et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.; Publisher statement: "This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited".

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