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Posts in category 'Ethnography'

23 April 2014

Ethnography, magpies, shiny things, and parallel worlds

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Three posts by Simon Roberts (?) explore the rise, fall and possible futures of ethnography in commercial settings.

Ethnography, magpies and shiny things
The first piece explores how ethnography fell victim of the enduring quest for fashion and the need to differentiate in market research. The market research industry commoditized ethnography and failed to capitalise on its potential. As a result, ethnography has become at best weakened, at worst sidelined in favour of newer, vogue ideas and approaches. It’s not just a lament – but a call for reinvigoration.

Ethnography in a parallel world
The second piece explores contexts in which ethnography has been used to greater potential – and chart the threats it now faces. It is a story of the rise and rise ethnography in contexts outside of market research where its application was more sophisticated and delivered more.

The third will attempt a resolution of the first two posts – charting a course for the future as a vital tool for businesses (and others) in their on-going attempts to understand and engage with a complex world.

9 April 2014

Ethnography in action at Wells Fargo

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Only a few years ago, the corporate view of retirement planning at San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank tended to focus on dollars and cents — how much an individual needed to invest, by when and for how many years,” write Julien Cayla, Robin Beers and Eric Arnould, authors of the article “Stories That Deliver Business Insights,” in the Winter 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. This segmentation did not account for context such as whether a person was inclined to think about long-term financial goals.

“As part of an ethnographic project commissioned by the bank, researchers had customers walk through a life timeline and recount activities they engaged in that related to retirement planning in each decade of their lives — their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond,” write the authors. The stories showed that baby boomers faced “a complex phenomenon of continually negotiated personal travails and marketplace dynamics.”

As a result of what they heard, the Wells Fargo team reworked how they think of customers. The bank developed a behavior-based segmentation that divided retirement approaches into three groups — Reactor, Pooler and Maximizer. [...]

As a result, the bank adjusted its marketing strategy and “designed its retirement planning site to include the various life stages used in the ethnographic research to convey the message ‘we meet you where you are’ and provide relevant, unintimidating guidance — as opposed to producing numbers-dense material filled with endless financial projections.”

10 March 2014

Observing the technologists

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Nick Seaver, a PhD candidate in sociocultural anthropology at UC Irvine, makes the case for the importance of “studying up“: doing ethnographies not only of disempowered groups, but of groups who wield power in society, like technology developers. This project focuses on the development of algorithmic music recommendation systems.

“Just as ethnography is an excellent tool for showing how “users” are more complicated than one might have thought, it is also useful for understanding the processes through which technologies get built. By turning an ethnographic eye to the designers of technology — to their social and cultural lives, and even to their understandings of users — we can get a more nuanced picture of what goes on under the labels “big data” or “algorithms.” For outsiders interested in the cultural ramifications of technologies like recommender systems, this perspective is crucial for making informed critiques. For developers themselves, being the subject of ethnographic research provides a unique opportunity for reflection and self-evaluation.”

Now I am curious what his research results actually showed.

5 March 2014

De l’importance de l’ethnographie appliquée aux technologies

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For once a post in French!

Hubert Guillaud of InternetActu describes some examples – mostly from the recent EPIC conference – of the great contribution of ethnography in focusing our gaze on real life practices, in pointing out that what technologists do not see, and in explaining how the strictly technological gaze often fails. ["Le grand apport de l’ethnographie est de renverser notre regard sur les pratiques en pointant du doigt ce que les technologues ne voient pas, d’expliquer en quoi le regard strictement technologique bien souvent, échoue."]

“L’ethnographie est une méthode des sciences sociales consistant en l’étude descriptive et analytique, sur le terrain, des moeurs, coutumes et pratiques de populations déterminées. Longtemps cantonnés aux populations primitives, les sociologues, anthropologues et ethnologues ont depuis les années 70 élargies l’usage de ces méthodes à bien d’autres terrains, et notamment à l’étude de nos pratiques quotidiennes, afin de mieux comprendre “les expériences humaines en contexte”. Parmi les repères de la conception ethnographique appliquée à la technologie, citons au moins le travail pionnier de Lucy Suchman au Xerox Parc dès les années 90, ou celui de Genevieve Bell qui poursuit ce travail chez Intel et qui a signé, avec Tony Salvador et Ken Anderson, en 1999, l’un des articles fondateur de l’ethnographie appliquée aux questions technologiques.

Depuis 2011, le site Questions d’Ethnographie (ethnomatters) interroge ces nouvelles pratiques de l’ethnographie et permet à de jeunes chercheurs de discuter la tension entre l’ethnographie universitaire et l’ethnographie appliquée, tel que de plus en plus d’ethnologues la pratiquent. Pour eux, si l’ethnographie est importante, c’est parce qu’elle aide à maintenir “le développement technologique réel”, concret.

Récemment, le site a publié une série d’exemples tirés de présentations qui se sont déroulées lors de la conférence Epic 2013 qui avait lieu en septembre dernier à Londres, une conférence sur la pratique ethnographique dans le monde des affaires (voir le brouillon non finalisé des actes (.pdf)), qui éclaire d’une manière concrète l’intérêt de l’ethnographie appliquée. Le grand apport de l’ethnographie est de renverser notre regard sur les pratiques en pointant du doigt ce que les technologues ne voient pas, d’expliquer en quoi le regard strictement technologique bien souvent, échoue. Prenons quelques exemples pour mieux comprendre les enjeux.”

5 March 2014

Reflecting on anthropology and design

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A few weeks back I wrote that Rachel Carmen Ceasar (@rceasara) is running a short series on Savage Minds that features interviews with design researchers, ethnographic hackers, and field work makers with their take on anthropology and design.

Besides her interview with Nicolas Nova, she has now published a couple more interviews:

Anne Galloway – designer, ethnographer, archaeologist
For Anne, the most interesting connection between anthropology and design can be found in how each practice enhances the other. Anthropology provides a kind of thick description that contextualises design processes and products, and design offers anthropology creative means of exploring and representing what it means to be human. She also enjoys the explicit combination of thinking, doing, and making—of blurring boundaries between analytical and creative practice, between rational and emotional experience.

Note Anne’s use of apps:
I record all my interviews with an app called Highlight, which I like because I can flag interesting points during the conversation and return to them later, without interrupting the flow. I do a lot of note-taking, using a regular paper notebook or an app called iA Writer (because that’s where I do most of my writing these days, including right now).”

Silvia Lindtner – DIY maker, hacker, and ethnographic design researcher
Can making and designing for a living also be critical? In which ways? How does critical design in production differ from the kind of critical design we know today?

26 February 2014

What the tech business hasn’t yet grasped about human nature

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Genevieve Bell, Intel’s in-house anthropologist, sees constants in our behavior that could mean big bucks for businesses that find a way to capitalize on them. C|Net reports on her talk at the Mobile World Congress yesterday.

“In this digital world, the story we’re telling about the future is a story driven by what the technology wants and not what we as humans need,” Bell said at the WIPjam developer event during the massive Mobile World Congress show here. “We want mystery, we want boredom, a lot of us in this room want to be dangerous and bad and be forgiven about it later. We want to be human, not digital.”

15 February 2014

The anthropology of globalization / The ethnography of finance

 

Keith Hart is Professor of Economic Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Goldsmith’s, University of London. He has contributed to the concept of the informal economy to development studies and has published widely on economic anthropology.

The Memory Bank is Keith Hart’s digital archive and blog, which was created in 2000 to help publicize his book by the same name. The site includes a near final version of the book, short academic articles written and published in the last decade, and forays into journalism, stories, poetry, and film reviews.

In his latest essay, Money and finance: For an anthropology of globalization, Hart and co-author Horacio Ortiz (Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, Paris), review recent developments in the anthropology of money and finance, listing its achievements, shortcomings and prospects, referring back to the discipline’s founders a century ago. and focusing on money’s role in shaping global society and bringing world history into a more active dialogue with ethnography.

“If the new ethnography of finance is to throw more than superficial light on society, we must transcend the categories that shape media discussion of the “crisis” and try to understand our shared human predicament as a moment in the history of money. We need new methods if we wish to account for how money underpins social identities and relations of conflict, hierarchy and interdependence in the world we are making today. This review proposes some of the tools we need, drawing first on some classical authors who combined openness to ethnographic discovery with a global vision of economic history in their times and then on contemporary anthropological research.”

14 February 2014

anthropology + design: nicolas nova

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Rachel Carmen Ceasar (@rceasara) is a doctoral candidate in the Joint Medical Anthropology Program at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco (California, USA). She writes about the subjective and scientific stakes in exhuming mass graves from the Spanish Civil War and dictatorship in Spain today.

She is now running a short series on Savage Minds that features interviews with design researchers, ethnographic hackers, and field work makers with their take on anthropology and design.

For the first interview, she talks with design researcher and ethnographer Nicolas Nova.

Nicolas Nova is a design researcher, ethnographer and co-founder of the Near Future Laboratory. His work is about identifying weak signals as well as exploring people’s needs, motivations and contexts to map new design opportunities and chart potential futures. Nicolas has given talks and exhibited his work on the intersections of design, technology and the near-future possibilities for new social-technical interaction rituals in venues such SXSW, AAAS, O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference and the design week in Milano, the Institute for the Future, the the MIT Medialab. He holds a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction from the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne and has been a visiting researcher at the Art Center School of Design (Pasadena). He is also Professor at the Geneva University of Arts and Design (HEAD–Genève) and curator for Lift Conference, a series of international events about digital culture and innovation.

Upcoming interviews are with Kat Jungnickel (Lecturer at Goldsmiths), Daniela K. Rosner (PhD student at UC Berkeley’s School of Information), and Silvia Lindtner (a post-doctoral fellow at the ISTC-Social at UC Irvine and at Fudan University Shanghai).

Kat Jungnickel is a sociologist interested in maker culture, DiY / DiT (do-it-together) technology practices, gender and mobilities and inventive methods. Her current work investigates the impact of (digital) technologies and material practices in knowledge transmission and the potential different stories hold for understanding social worlds.

Daniela K. Rosner is currently finishing her doctorate at UC Berkeley’s School of Information and holds a B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design in Graphic Design and a M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Chicago. Through fieldwork and design, she reveal and create surprising connections between technology and handwork. She is also an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE), and co-directs the TAT Lab with Beth Kolko.

Silvia Lindtner is a post-doctoral fellow at the ISTC-Social (the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing) at UC Irvine and at Fudan University Shanghai. She researches, writes and teaches about DIY (do-it-yourself) maker culture, with a particular focus on its intersections with manufacturing and industry development in China. Drawing on her background in interaction design and media studies, she merges ethnographic methods with approaches in design and making. This allows her to provide deep insights into emerging cultures of technology production and use, from a sociological and technological perspective.

14 February 2014

An ethnography of the Brixton Pound

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Mario Campana (@mariocampana), a PhD student at City University London’s Cass Business School, researches the growing trend of local currencies – of which there are currently over 3000 around the world.

He recently presented at EPIC, where in a Pecha Kucha presentation he discussed his PhD research into the Brixton Pound, a neighborhood in South London.

Expanding upon the research presented in the rapid-fire format of his last presentation on this aspect of his research, this article expands upon his ethnographic inquiry into Brixton’s local currency, delving deep into the social forces driving the development of the currency and the surrounding community. Such forces include issues of gentrification, and the conflicting notions of community and belonging between previously settled and locally rooted immigrants from the Caribbean and the recent influx of young, wealthy, and upwardly-mobile settlers from other parts of the city.

14 February 2014

Interview with man at the heart of Facebook ethnography kerfuffle

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Tricia Wang interviewed Daniel Miller, the anthropologist at the heart of the Facebook ethnography kerfuffle, and published the transcript on EthnographyMatters.

Dr. Daniel Miller (@dannyanth) is Professor of Material Culture at the Department of Anthropology University College London and a Fellow of the British Academy. As an anthropologist he has contributed foundational theoretical and empirical work to the study of material culture and consumption. Even though Danny’s work is in academia, his research on consumption continues to influence the commercial world. As such, EPIC invited Danny to be one of the keynote speakers in London.

After reading Danny’s work for over a decade, [Tricia Wang] was beyond excited that [she] got to meet him at EPIC. In this interview, Danny tells us about his applied research on hospices and his current massive, multi-year, global social media research project that recently led up to what some called the “Facebook kerfuffle“.

13 February 2014

Exploring new markets for Firefox OS: mobile and internet behaviours in Central Europe

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Experientia has lately been doing a lot of work on mobile OSes, from feature evaluations of some of the more interesting new arrivals, to comparisons of some of the classics. We have also conducted user research into people’s behaviours and attitudes to OSes, exploring their relationships with mobile phones, internet, brands, and with OSes themselves.

In 2013, Experientia worked with Mozilla’s User Experience Research team as they prepared to enter new, emerging markets with FireFox OS. Experientia led an ethnographic research project exploring mobile and internet behaviours in Poland and Hungary. The project involved observation, shadowing and interviews in the two Central European countries.

In keeping with their open source roots, the Mozilla team has shared some key insights from these intriguing emerging markets in a three part blog series on mobile behaviours in Poland and Hungary. Among other insights, the project discovered a uniquely Hungarian mobile culture, where traditions of close family networks and group buying have left a legacy of complicated mobile contracts and ownership

Mozilla blog posts:

13 February 2014

Qualitative research in industry – videos from the Qualitative 360 Asia Pacific conference

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Qualitative 360 Asia Pacific 2013 took place in Singapore in November 2013, and some videos are now available:

Winning with shoppers via qualitative research [23:57]
Michael Biscocho, Consumer and Market Knowledge Manager, Procter & Gamble
• Leveraging qualitative techniques to complement quantitative methods in consumer behavior
• Exploring FMCG consumer decision making through qualitative research engagement
• Harnessing different methodologies of qualitative research to gain better understanding of market trends
• Implementing qualitative methodologies as part of overall research to develop retail strategies

Taking qualitative research to the cloud [33:38]
Jasmeet Sethi, Regional Head of ConsumerLab, Ericsson
• Learning the art of how to transform qualitative research from a 12 year old kid.
• How could you build and run on-demand insight communities with zero investment?
• Case study from Ericsson on the first ever ‘Over the Top Qualitative Research’

Tapping into the informal economy to create new opportunities for innovation. A case study in recycling and push cart aunties [24:45]
Juliana Koh, Director, Consumer Faces
Manisha Dikshit, Managing Director, Consumer Faces
• Informal economy is a large contributor to the global economy and presents several opportunities/learning for the commercial world
• This paper presents a case study to understand the role of informal economy and how it can be applied in commercial businesses
• The paper further provides pointers on how the corporate/formal world can implement this

Achieving maximum insights from challenging consumers using ethnography for product development in China and Vietnam [27:38]
Christelle Michon, APAC Sensory and Consumer Insights Manager, Symrise
• Understanding the culinary habits of low income consumers in Vietnam through ethnography
• Observing the fun and excitement of kids related to foods in China
• Benefits and challenges of using ethnography: what were the lessons learned?
• How actionable insight were achieved and used for new product development in Symrise

Exploring the meaning of digital: a case of ethnographic research on mobile life in Singapore [26:33]
Masao Kakihara, Senior Research Manager, Google
• How Google does research globally and locally
• Making sense of the meaning of digital life in Asia
• Methodological challenges in the age of big data

Great Wall, Great Reward: finding design-actionable insights for medical devices in China [28:43]
Tico Blumenthal, Global Customer Insights Manager, Medtronic
• Learn how qualitative research is used to drive applied medical device innovations
• Hear a thought-leader introduce examples of how medical devices can be optimized for Chinese customers
• Understand the designer’s viewpoint when filtering observational data
• Hear about some of the unique challenges doing qual. in China
• Tips and tricks for getting better insights

Performance discovery project: emerging market update [25:31]
Ajay Mohan, Director of Partner & Web Marketing APAC, Intel
• Understanding what “performance” means to customers and how they respond to advertising and branding
• Using visualisation techniques to gain unarticulated emotional drivers and emotions behind “performance”
• Employing trained professionals to conduct “therapy” interviews across US, Brazil, China, Germany and India
• Discussing the outcome of the research: What have we learned and how new insights help answer business questions

Digital Qualitative: from add-on to core research [29:25]
Nehal Medh, Managing Director, Consumer Experiences, GfK
• Can online qual methods replace offline qual?
• What advantages do they offer?
• What are the pitfalls we should be aware of
• What are the best ways to engage and motivate the participants in an online qual research?
• Within online what potential does mobile qual research have?
• Going beyond the obvious online tools such as bulletin board, focus group?

Consumer understanding through unarticulated responses and points of expression [26:48]
Marilyne Chew, Head of Qualitative, Nielsen
• Understand how Neuroscience insights are working to make a discussion flow sharper and more precise
• Identifying ways Neuroscience and Qualitative works best together
• Overcoming the challenges of combining the two methodologies in a research study

13 February 2014

A case study on inclusive design: ethnography and energy use

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Energy usage and conservation can be a seemingly mundane part of an individual’s daily life on one hand, but a politically, ecologically, and economically critical issue on the other. Despite its importance, there is a startling lack of insight into what guides and influences behaviors surrounding energy.

With conventional quantitative analyses of properties and income explaining less than 40% of variations in households’ consumption, Dr Dan Lockton (senior associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design) and Flora Bowden set out to unpack some of the behavioral nuances and contextual insights around energy use within the daily lives of British households, from the perspective of design researchers.

Their interviews had them meeting everyone from “quantified self” enthusiasts to low-income residents of public housing, and involving them in the design process.

What they discovered bears significant implications for design which seeks to influence behaviors around energy, for example, where policy makers and utility companies see households as “using energy”, household members see their own behavior as solving problems and making their homes more comfortable, such as by running a bath to unwind after a trying day, or preparing a meal for their family.

EthnographyMatters reports on what Dan and Flora learned in their ethnographic research, and how understanding “folk models” of energy – what energy “looks like” – may hold the key to curtailing energy usage.

12 February 2014

An anthropologist walks into a bar…

 

In 2006 a major European brewing company we’ll call BeerCo was faced with falling bar and pub sales and, despite muscular market research and competitive analysis, couldn’t figure out why. Customers liked its core product, a standard lager, and store sales were up. But something wasn’t clicking in bars, and aggressive promotions weren’t helping. What was wrong?

Having exhausted conventional research approaches, BeerCo commissioned a team of social anthropologists to visit a dozen bars in the UK and Finland to find out.

The – very introductory – article by Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen of ReD Associates, ends on a nice quote:

“Accordingly, many companies are turning to customer research that is powered by big data and analytics. Although that approach can provide astonishingly detailed pictures of some aspects of their markets, the pictures are far from complete and are often misleading. It may be possible to predict a customer’s next mouse click or purchase, but no amount of quantitative data can tell you why she made that click or purchase. Without that insight, companies cannot close the complexity gap.”

11 February 2014

Tricia Wang’s PhD dissertation — Talking to Strangers: Chinese Youth and Social Media

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Talking to Strangers: Chinese Youth and Social Media
by Tricia Wang
Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology, University of California, San Diego, 2013
Professor Richard Madsen, Chair

Abstract

The sudden availability of social media and open-market capitalism is creating new spaces in China that are shifting norms and behaviors in unexpected ways. This research investigates and explains the phenomena of semi-anonymous interactions among Chinese youth in online communities by introducing a sociological framework called the Elastic Self, which is characterized by the feeling that one’s identity is malleable and involves the trying on of different identities that are beyond the realm of what would be considered normal displays of one’s prescribed self. In informal online spaces, Chinese youth have achieved greater freedom to express heterodox identities without shame or anxiety by forging social bonds with strangers and maintaining distance from people they know, who might seek to enforce conformity to a single identity prescribed by traditional social and political norms.

Through these informal interactions online, Chinese youth are laying the groundwork for a public sphere with social ties based more on friendship than on blood ties or guanxi; on trust, rather than fear; and on self-expression, rather than self-restraint. These changes have potentially transformative power for Chinese society as a whole by altering the way that people perceive and engage with each other on personal and social levels. Under semi-anonymous conditions, Chinese youth are able to overcome the low levels of trust that characterize authoritarian societies and adopt broader forms of social trust that characterize more participatory societies. This increased trust enables youth to enter what I call the Participatory Phase, which is defined by engagement in citizenship practices that expand the public sphere through online debate that can precipitate offline civic participation. To get to that stage, youth must first pass through two critical phases—Exploratory and Trusting—during which they learn how to share information with and socialize with strangers in a low-risk context.

My research reveals that by creating an Elastic Self, Chinese youth find ways to connect to each other and to establish a web of casual trust that extends beyond particularistic guanxi ties and authoritarian institutions. To be clear, this new form of sociality gives youth a way to navigate Chinese society, not to disconnect from or to rebel against it. In doing so, youth are building the infrastructure of a civil society by establishing relationships in which they start out as strangers, thereby bypassing potentially restrictive social labels and structures that could otherwise prevent connection. Through semi-anonymous informal interactions, Chinese youth are primarily seeking to discover their own social world and to create emotional connections—not grand political change. Rather than attempting to revolutionize politics, Chinese youth are using these new forms of social engagement to revolutionize their relationships with themselves and each other.

Even though Chinese youth do not feel that internet censorship is a hindrance in their everyday lives, real name identification policies that limit communication to formal interactions threatens the viability of crucial informal online spaces where Chinese youth have been able to freely explore their identities. The future of the Chinese internet and Chinese society at large rests in this very tension that Chinese youth are negotiating between finding informal spaces where they can present an Elastic Self and formal spaces where they feel compelled to present a prescribed identity. The social and emotional changes catalyzed by the Elastic Self can only persist if the circumstances that allow them to flourish remain unencumbered.

> Download full dissertation
> Tricia’s thank you

Tricia Wang describes herself as a “tech ethnographer“.

Note that Tricia will be giving a talk at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University on Tuesday, February 18 12:30pm EST. It will be live-streamed for those who can’t come and forever archived.

21 January 2014

How should we analyse our lives?

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Alex “Sandy” Pentland, a professor of computational social sciences at MIT Media Lab and others like him are now convinced that the great academic divide between “hard” and “soft” sciences is set to disappear, since researchers these days can gather massive volumes of data about human behaviour with precision, writes Gillian Tett in the FT Magazine.

“Sometimes this information is volunteered by individuals, on sites such as Facebook; sometimes it can be gathered from the electronic traces – the “digital breadcrumbs” – that we all deposit (when we use a mobile phone, say) or deliberately collected with biometric devices like the ones used at Bank of America. Either way, it can enable academics to monitor and forecast social interaction in a manner we could never have dreamed of before.”

Tett sees two problems with this approach: privacy concerns and the important (but often ignored) fact that digital breadcrumbs are not neutral, but reflect cultural and power relations.

18 January 2014

[Book] Practical Ethnography

 

Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector
By Sam Ladner
Left Coast Press
April 2014, 200 pages
[Publisher link - Amazon link]

> Download free sample: pdfkindle

Abstract – Ethnography is an increasingly important research method in the private sector, yet ethnographic literature continues to focus on an academic audience. Sam Ladner fills the gap by advancing rigorous ethnographic practice that is tailored to corporate settings where colleagues are not steeped in social theory, research time lines may be days rather than months or years, and research sponsors expect actionable outcomes and recommendations. Ladner provides step-by-step guidance at every turn–covering core methods, research design, using the latest mobile and digital technologies, project and client management, ethics, reporting, and translating your findings into business strategies. This book is the perfect resource for private-sector researchers, designers, and managers seeking robust ethnographic tools or academic researchers hoping to conduct research in corporate settings.

Sam Ladner, PhD, works as both an academic and a practitioner. A sociologist specializing in the social aspects of technological change, she has published articles in peer-reviewed journals such as Time & Society and The Canadian Journal of Communication. Ladner successfully operated her own research firm, Copernicus Consulting, until recently joining Microsoft as a Senior User Researcher in the Microsoft Office division. She served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, where she also taught qualitative research methods as an adjunct professor. She holds a PhD in sociology from York University, an M.A. in communication from Simon Fraser University, and a Bachelor’s of Journalism from University of King’s College.

18 January 2014

Interview with Leisa Reichelt, Head of User Research at UK Government Digital Services

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Tricia Wang (see also previous post) just published her interview with Leisa Reichelt, Head of User Research at UK Government Digital Services.

Tricia introduced it with a kind reference to me (thank you!):

“>We are excited to interview Leisa Reichelt (@leisa) for our January EPIC theme at Ethnography Matters.  I met Leisa at EPIC 2103 in London at Mark Vanderbeeken’s townhall meeting on Big Data. When Mark told me about Leisa’s work, I became sooo excited because I just love talking to UX brains who are obsessed with strategy. While UX designers and ethnographic researchers engage in very different processes, both are creating products and processes for organizations–organizations that are often resistant to change. We are lucky to have Leisa share her thoughts on this topic in our interview. Leisa is also looking for passionate people to join her team at Government Digital Service!”

An appetiser:

Tricia: What are some of the biggest obstacles for researchers and designers to successfully working together?

Leisa: I think it’s often just lack of experience working together and not knowing what the other can contribute to each other’s work. Often this is due to each being involved at different phases of the project. You really need to be sitting right next to each other almost all the time in order to be properly helpful. We like to think of designers and researchers working as a pair just like programmers work in pairs. The most important thing is for each person to not feel like they have to know it all and be perfect – creating a project environment where everyone is encouraged to experiment, to be allowed to make mistakes and be wrong sometimes and where learning is valued.

18 January 2014

Tricia Wang: The Conceit of Oracles (talk notes)

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Sociologist and ethnographer Tricia Wang has posted the notes of “The Conceit of Oracles: How we ended up in a world in which quantitative data is more valued than qualitative data,” her inspiring and much appreciated opening keynote at the EPIC Conference in London, which she describes as “a conference for people who care deeply about making organizations more human-centered.”

Here is the summary:

Technology is playing an increasingly large role in decision-making processes. But are we really making more informed decisions? How do we even know we are asking the right questions? And what are we missing in our measurement-driven world?

This talk seeks to answer these questions by looking at methods of prediction from the Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece to the use of electricity during the Scientific Revolution and the invention of computers in the Age of Information. These historical events provide a lens for understanding how we ended up in a “data-driven” society: a world where computers are mostly valued as predictive machines; quantitative output is seen as “truth”; and the qualitative cultural context is seen as inferior to quantitative data. The danger in predictions, forecasting, and measurements that over-rely on quantitative data is that a misleading representation of actual human experiences can result. This is a terrible mistake and one that is committed frequently within organizations.

We are facing one of the biggest struggles of our times: the challenge for institutions is to treat their stakeholders (e.g users, employees, consumers, audience) as humans, not as data points. Connected to this challenge is the dominant belief that numerical measurements such as Big Data, will lead to more knowledge, justifying investment in quantitative research at the expense of qualitative research.

This struggle speaks to the important role of ethnography in ensuring that businesses, governments, and organizations are people-centered in the face of bureaucracy and numbers-driven thinking. But before ethnography can play a more strategic role inside institutions, the field needs to evolve. Ethnographers need to focus on making their work more visible, more integrated with Big Data, and more accessible. Our job is to teach organizations to design for experience, not usability; to create for people, not users.

When companies prioritize experience, they will see a greater business value in bringing in experts to provide explanatory knowledge that is connected to real social experiences.

23 December 2013

Ethnographic research: Facebook is basically dead and buried with UK teenagers

 

As part of a European Union-funded study on social media (make sure to check also the UCL site and blog on the same project), the Department of Anthropology at University College London is running nine simultaneous 15-month ethnographic studies in seven countries (small towns in Brazil, China (2), India, Italy, Trinidad, Turkey and the UK). Interesting insights from the UK:

“What we’ve learned from working with 16-18 year olds in the UK is that Facebook is not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried. Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it. Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things.

Instead, four new contenders for the crown have emerged: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. This teaches us a number of important lessons about winning the app war.”