Hi there Geoff
So glad that you discovered the contextual enquiry technique - it's one of my absolutely favourite user research techniques
Contextual enquiries do seem intimidating at first, but I love your approach of getting in some practice.
I don’t have a product to have them use.
That's ok. Contextual enquiry is an observational technique. It's not tied down to a product. For example, some of my ex-teammates were working with a large supermarket chain here in Australia. Before they redesigned the online shopping experience, they spent a few weeks following people from home to and around the supermarket, and then home again, to observe the shopping experience. They learned about how different the shopping experiences were for families with young kids, versus no kids and interesting behavioural things such as quick/top up shops versus the big weekly shop.
Where do I get participants?
I suggest picking an experience that is fairly universal so you can easily get participants. Maybe something like shopping for a present, or borrowing a book from the library etc. That way you can use family and friends for your practise sessions. This way you're not dealing with the issues of them not knowing how to use a product.
But then what?
If you're doing this in a non-practise way, then you'll ideally be synthesising your research into interesting insights. You could perhaps put this into a journey map or something else to communicate your findings.
Some other things to think about:
- Rather than a contextual enquiry, have you considered concentrating on getting your interviewing techniques down pat? Contextual enquiries may also include some form of interviews at some points, but interviews are such a great technique for exploring the WHY behind people's interactions with a service/brand/product. I love using interviews, particularly at the discovery stage of a service/product development. You get to explore the context around the use of the product/service.
- In terms of taking notes....there are a few apps that allow you to record the audio of your session and send it off to be transcribed (e.g. rev.com). It costs money but if you're doing this in a professional setting, it's worth factoring in this cost as it saves you time and allows you to spend the time focussed on facilitating the session and then post session, combing through the transcriptions to codify and make meaning of the research.
Hope this helps. I've been doing research in various forms over the past 15 years and love it so much!