counter

Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
Audience Business Culture Design Locations Media Methods Services Social Issues

Children


Disabled


Elderly


Gender


Teens


Advertising


Branding


Business


Innovation


Marketing


Mechatronics


Technology


Architecture


Art


Creativity


Culture


Identity


Mobility


Museum


Co-creation


Design


Experience design


Interaction design


Presence


Service design


Ubiquitous computing


Africa


Americas


Asia


Australia


Europe


Italy


Turin


Blogging


Book


Conference


Media


Mobile phone


Play


Virtual world


Ethnography


Foresight


Prototype


Scenarios


Usability


User experience


User research


Education


Financial services


Healthcare


Public services


Research


Tourism


Urban development


Communications


Digital divide


Emerging markets


Participation


Social change


Sustainability


Posts in category 'Ethnography'

28 March 2013

Is Open Government working?

opengov

In an insightful blog post, Reboot principal Panthea Lee asks if open government initiatives make citizens more informed and engaged, and make governments more accountable to their people? What impact have open government initiatives had so far?

Reboot is a USA-based service design firm working in the fields of global governance and development.

Four questions, she writes, might be worth considering for those working to measure and achieve impact in this space:

1. Who gains from Open Government?
Which populations have the access and motivation to use these channels? Frequently, programs and platforms privilege certain groups over others.

2. How do we reach “The Other Side”?
There are two sides to the open government coin: citizens and governments. The goal is to facilitate constructive dialogue between the two, but many projects seem to focus on one side or the other.

3. Can we do better than equating scale with success?
Replication and scale are not always appropriate indicators of success. The effectiveness of most open government initiatives will be context dependent. Replication requires programs to standardize as many elements of its models and activities as possible.

4. How do Open Government processes change people?
Open government initiatives seek to mobilize citizens and to motivate governments to respond. But what are the processes through which change occurs?

28 March 2013

What can ethnography bring to the study of deliberative democracy?

 

Open government initiatives offer new, often technologically enabled avenues for civic participation. But which populations have the access and motivation to use these channels? Frequently, programs and platforms privilege certain groups over others.

An ethnographic study of participatory budgeting in Rome (conducted by Julien Talpin of the University of Lille) found that participation skewed towards those who were already active in civic affairs and in relative positions of power. Sixty-three percent of participants were activists. White-collar workers and those over 50 were also over-represented.

Abstract

The study of the individual effects of participation has mainly focused on the impact of deliberation on actors’ preferences, mostly based on quantitative and experimental research. I argue here that ethnography, based on a praxeologic and process approach, can offer broader results on actors’ learning in participatory devices than the cognitive effects generally emphasized.

Grounded in a case-study of a participatory budget in Rome, the research shows participation allows learning new skills and civic habits but may also bring about a greater distrust with politics.

Explaining the learning process, the paper stresses the different learning potential of participatory institutions. A condition for the durability of the effects observed is that participation be repeated over time. This requires integration within the institution, which happens for only a few; the majority of participants being disappointed stop participating. Speaking the language of the institution, some participants are however integrated enough to acquire further civic skills and knowledge, and even to endure a politicization process.

Finally, the study of actors’ long-term trajectories allows drawing conclusions on the social conditions of civic bifurcation. Ethnography thereby allows grasping the long-term consequences of civic engagement.

20 March 2013

Ethnography: Ellen Isaacs at TEDxBroadway

 

Ellen Isaacs (personal site), a user experience designer and ethnographer at PARC, spoke on January 28 at TEDx Broadway about the power of ethnography and how it might be useful in inspiring the future of Broadway.

As per usual with TEDx events, a video is now available.

13 March 2013

methods@manchester: research methods in the social sciences

 

methods@manchester is a website created by the University of Manchester to highlight and explain research methods in the social sciences. Many sections come with lecture videos and reading lists.

Readers will be particularly interested in the sections on collaborative approaches, ethnographic methods and qualitative interview analysis.

7 March 2013

Reaching those beyond Big Data

panthea_thumb1

Opening up the Stories to Action edition of Ethnography Matters is Panthea Lee’s @panthealee moving story about a human trafficking outreach campaign that her company, Reboot, designed for Safe Horizon.

In David Brook’s recent NYT column, What Data Can’t Do, he lists several things that big data is unable to accomplish. After reading the notes to Panthea’s talk below, we’d all agree that big data also leaves out people who live “off the grid.”

As Panthea tells her story about Fatou (pseudonym), a person who has been trafficked, we learn that many of the services we use to make our lives easier, like Google Maps or Hop Stop, are also used by human traffickers to maintain dominance and power over people they are controlling.

Panthea shares the early prototypes in Reboot’s design and how they decided to create a campaign that would take place at cash checking shops.

In this post, Panthea shares her notes to the talk that she gave at Microsoft’s annual Social Computing Symposium organized by Lily Cheng at NYU’s ITP. You can also view the video version of her talk.

5 March 2013

Language issues. An Interview with Brigitte Jordan

gj_oval

Last September, social anthropologist Nora Schenkel had the opportunity to interview Brigitte Jordan, described by Cat Macaulay as one of the “godmothers” of design ethnography. Schenkel interviewed her on how she transitioned as one of the first from academically grounded anthropology into the field of corporate ethnography.

“I think moving into the corporate sector was like moving into a new culture, Jordan agreed. Except that you think because you have in some respects the same language, you can rely on what you know.”

The interview is now posted (Part 1 | Part 2) on the blog of the Design Ethnography Community at Dundee University.

28 February 2013

On legitimacy, place and the anthropology of the Internet

sarahkendzior

In this thoughtful piece for Ethnography Matters, Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) discusses the ways in which the internet has transformed the relationship between the writer and the people about whom he or she writes. Sarah has written extensively about open access to scholarly publications (‘one paper (she) uploaded to Academia.edu… helped Uzbek refugees find a safe haven abroad’, according to one interview). 

In this post, Sarah writes about a deeper question regarding the openness of the research process and the ways in which the internet has led to a leveling of the playing fields in a way that some anthropologists would rather ignore than confront. After all, when the “subaltern speaks” and anyone, not just anthropologists, can hear, who exactly is doing the exposing?

The article was adapted from a chapter of her dissertation which she had been encouraged to publish in an academic journal, but since she actually want people to read it, she published it online instead.

In the article, she asks why anthropologists ignore the internet as a field site and what challenges they may face if they continue to do so:

“Today anthropology is facing a crisis of place, representation, and legitimacy similar to what journalism experienced a decade ago. Like journalists at the turn of the millennium, anthropologists have dealt with the challenges posed by the internet by ignoring them, downplaying the importance of the medium, and discounting its impact on the lives of the people they study. Despite the importance of the internet to people all over the world, there are few ethnographic studies of internet use conducted by anthropologists, and the anthropologists who do conduct this kind of research are marginalized and dismissed.[…]

Anthropology of the internet forces the question of whether being seen as an anthropologist is more important than doing meaningful ethnography. It strips the discipline of its elite trappings, requiring no excessive funding or dramatic upending of one’s life. What it does require is for the researcher to rely on more than just a dateline. When you are not going anywhere, you have to make the journey matter.”

24 February 2013

Call for Papers for EPIC 2013 London

epic

Since its inception, the EPIC conference has brought together a dynamic community of practitioners and scholars concerned with how ethnographic thinking and methods for understanding the contemporary social world are used to transform design, business and innovation contexts. Presenters and attendees come from innovation consultancies, design firms, universities and design schools, government and NGOs, research agencies and major corporations.

In 2013, EPIC comes to London for the first time. The dates are 15-18 September. The organizers are taking advantage of this opportunity by reaching out for contributions from a broad range of organizations and communities of practice in the hope of further enriching the EPIC ‘gene pool’ with those dedicated to illuminating social phenomena through ethnographic theory and practice. They are seeking engagement with social design firms, public policy developers, think tanks, the variety of marketing sciences, business schools, the service design sector, in fact anyone using ethnographic research to inform design, business, or innovation.

EPIC strives to serve as the premier site for deepening the contributions of ethnographic theory and practice in business and for maintaining a vibrant discussion about the significance of this work for industry and the world. In 2013, they break from the tradition of having a specific conference theme to refocus on how ethnographic ways of knowing the world are currently being used to transform it.

In 2013 they’re particularly interested in submissions of original research and material that address how ethnographic work is being thought about and practiced in the contemporary world. This may take the form of various theories made relevant and useful today, present discussions on technology such as Big Data, and the future of various public sectors which are in a state of transition.

In particular they seek submissions that illuminate:

  • how ethnographers are pushing the boundaries of theory from the social sciences and humanities (i.e., rituals, symbolic interpretation, gift-exchange, kinship, participation, access and agency, etc.), to interpret, understand and render contemporary practices and processes intelligible
  • the phenomenon of Big Data and the use of technology to support ethnographic data collection, organization and analysis
  • how ethnographic research and social science thinking inform sectors in transition, such as finance, education and energy

Deadlines:
– Papers and PechaKucha: 9 March 2013
– Artifacts: 9 April 2013
– Doctoral and Masters Colloquium: 11 May 2013

13 February 2013

From GoPros to vanity camera drones

gopro

Nicolas Nova went skiing and saw a lot of GoPro cameras on people’s heads. He got intrigued, and wrote an Ethnography Matters column where he questions informal urban bricolage, weird cameras, curious gestures and wonders about their cultural implications.

“Head-mounted cameras, necklace cams, vanity drones… all these artefacts highlight how digital photography evolved and how their design encapsulates assumptions about their use. One can see a trend towards the automation of data collection, which correspond to common practices on the Web and social media. To put it differently, these devices reveal the intricate relationships between their design and our information ecosystem.”

10 February 2013

Interview with Michael Griffiths, Director of Ethnographic Research, Ogilvy & Mather China

griffiths-book

Michael B Griffiths is Director of Ethnography at Ogilvy & Mather, Greater China, Associate Research Fellow, White Rose East Asia Centre, and External Research Associate, Centre for International Business, University of Leeds, UK. He is also the author of the recent book Consumers and Individuals in China: Standing Out, Fitting In.

Book abstract:

Breaking new ground in the study of Chinese urban society, this book applies critical discourse analysis to ethnographic data gathered in Anshan, a third-tier city and market in northeast China. The book confronts the – still widespread – notion that Chinese consumers are not “real” individuals, and in doing so represents an ambitious attempt to give a new twist to the structure versus agency debates in social theory. To this end, Michael B. Griffiths shows how claims to virtues such as authenticity, knowledge, civility, sociable character, moral proprietary and self-cultivation emerge from and give shape to social interaction. Data material for this path-breaking analysis is drawn from informants as diverse as consumerist youths, dissident intellectuals, enterprising farmers, retired Party cadres, the rural migrant staff of an inner-city restaurant, the urban families dependent on a machine-repair workshop, and a range of white-collar professionals.

Consumers and Individuals in China: Standing out, fitting in, will appeal to sociologists, anthropologists, and cultural studies scholars, China Studies generalists, and professionals working at the intersection of culture and business in China. The vivid descriptions of living and doing fieldwork in China also mean that those travelling there will find the book stimulating and useful

Shanghaiist interviewed Michael Griffiths (part one | part two) about his book and insights:

Chinese people – and this is what my research seeks to show – like people everywhere, take up positions in relation to dominant cultural narratives or discourses.

This doesn’t mean that all those things about Confucianism (for example) are not true or relevant, it just means that – in terms of what individual people do on the ground in an everyday way – it’s intensely more complicated than that.
So that’s the sort of broader background to my book. The real value of the research is the way I set out to show that. It’s a systematic analysis; basically its structural anthropology though in a postmodern way. It’s about looking at the different ways that people position themselves through their speaking and acting, and disaggregating that into, let’s say, the most reducible … I’m tempted to say elements but that’s not right… discourses. Discourses are simply systems of meaning that have a certain internal integrity whilst also being connected to everything else.”

The first part of the interview is more general, while the second part strongly focused on cultural context of the advertising industry in China.

29 January 2013

New MA at UC London combining anthropology, materials and design

cmd-logo

“The material world is a world of social potential. Social scientists should be better equipped to engage with materials and objects through ethnographic, critical, analytical, presentational and collaborative skills. Designers, artists, engineers, architects and curators should be better equipped to work with people using similar skills.

The MA in Culture, Materials and Design is for people who are interested in developing their people-skills, and ways of thinking about culture and society, to work alongside, and with, designers, engineers, heritage professionals, environmentalists, materials scientists, and others with a pragmatic interest in materials and design.

The course is about anthropological analytical skills and ethnographic methods, with some presentational and studio group-work skills. We mainly apply these skills to exploring the cultural and social implications of materials and design. We do social science in ways which have an affinity with design and related fields.”

20 January 2013

Book: Ethnography and the City – Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork

ethnography_and_the_city

Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork
Richard E. Ocejo (Editor)
Routledge, 2012, 272 pages
(Amazon link)

The only collection of its kind on the market, this reader gathers the work of some of the most esteemed urban ethnographers in sociology and anthropology. Broken down into sections that cover key aspects of ethnographic research, Ethnography and the City will expose readers to important works in the field, while also guiding students to the study of method as they embark on their own work.

> French book review by Daniel Cefaï

15 January 2013

A sustainable building promotes pro-environmental behavior

plos

A Sustainable Building Promotes Pro-Environmental Behavior: An Observational Study on Food Disposal
by Wu DW, DiGiacomo A, Kingstone A
PLoS ONE 8(1): e53856. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053856 – January 2013

In order to develop a more sustainable society, the wider public will need to increase engagement in pro-environmental behaviors. Psychological research on pro-environmental behaviors has thus far focused on identifying individual factors that promote such behavior, designing interventions based on these factors, and evaluating these interventions. Contextual factors that may also influence behavior at an aggregate level have been largely ignored.

In the current study, we test a novel hypothesis – whether simply being in a sustainable building can elicit environmentally sustainable behavior. We find support for our hypothesis: people are significantly more likely to correctly choose the proper disposal bin (garbage, compost, recycling) in a building designed with sustainability in mind compared to a building that was not.

Questionnaires reveal that these results are not due to self-selection biases. Our study provides empirical support that one’s surroundings can have a profound and positive impact on behavior. It also suggests the opportunity for a new line of research that bridges psychology, design, and policy-making in an attempt to understand how the human environment can be designed and used as a subtle yet powerful tool to encourage and achieve aggregate pro-environmental behavior.

9 January 2013

Ethnographic research on vehicular design in China

img_2597

Zach Hyman is based in Chongqing, China on a year long ethnographic dive into creative practices of vehicular design among resource-constrained users. After four months in the field, Zach shares with Ethnography Matters his first field update.

His observations on low-tech vehicles are incredibly relevant for the current global shifts in automative production. China is now the largest car market. But many Western companies are discovering that simply transferring a car designed for Western users does not appeal to Asian users. Point in case GM’s Cadillac, a car built for American consumers fails to connect to Chinese consumers. It’s no surprise to an audience of ethnographers that cultural values inform design decisions, but companies like GM are having to learn the hard way.

A deep understanding of workers’ current vehicle practices reveals new opportunities to develop vehicles that challenge the current domination of resource-intensive cars. One entrepreneur, Joel Jackson, created Mobius One in Kenya with local welders to overcome transport challenges. The result? A $6,000 low-tech car made for Africa. Like Joel, Zach’s research contributes to a growing group of designers and entrepreneurs who will create a new class of vehicles.

4 January 2013

Steelcase’s anthropologist on remaking offices to create happier workers

flynn-donna

Anthropologist Donna Flynn directs Steelcase’s WorkSpace Futures, a 19-member independent research group within the global office design company, that is responsible for “thinking into the future”: understanding the trends shaping the ways we work and sharing that intelligence with Steelcase and its customers.

The initiatives that WorkSpace Futures tackles are so big they call them “quests,” as they are long, oft-meandering journeys of discovery.

Flynn talked with Fast Company about a few of the most pressing quests for leaders to wrap their minds around: the ongoing redefinition of collaboration, the role of privacy in getting work done, the progression of worker well-being, and how all of these trends relate to the places in which we work. Places that are changing.

24 December 2012

How are students actually using IT? An ethnographic study

educause

This ECAR research bulletin describes an anthropological ethnographic analysis of student practices relating to the use of information technology on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) campus.

Using EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) studies as benchmarks, this imaginative research examines learning management system usage and satisfaction, student ownership and use of technology devices (especially mobile devices), and where on campus students choose to compute. Field data for the project were collected from four sources: notes on participant observation of student practices, unstructured interviews with a selection of technology users, an online survey for enrolled students, and the shadowing of consenting students while they were on campus.

20 December 2012

Seven questions with library anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster

Nancy-Fried-Foster

In her work anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster applies anthropological principles to the study of the university’s libraries and their users. By focusing on the work that people are doing inside these spaces, they can identify needs and imagine new solutions to address those needs.

“My background provides me with a lot of field experience and a grounding in anthropological theory, all of which I apply when I look at what happens in libraries or, more generally, in academic work. At the same time, I have read and received on-the-job training in work-practice study and user-centered design, which are more recent applied social science traditions.

In participatory design projects we learn about the work practices of faculty members, grad students, undergrads, and our own colleagues in the library. As we learn, we discover opportunities to provide better technology, services, and spaces. To dig a little deeper, the way we learn is by including a lot of different kinds of experts in the design process—both the traditional experts such as software engineers and the people who are experts on the work that is to be done and how best to do it.

My broader studies—the projects that are not specifically related to building a piece of software, but are more generally about investigating how people do their work—resemble ethnographic studies. The focus is always on the work that people are doing: how they are working, where they are encountering obstacles, what they are trying to achieve. We are looking at people’s work practices in their broader life context and our goal is to understand and support their work.”

Read the interview

12 December 2012

On Digital Ethnography: mapping as a mode of data discovery

wendyhsu

While digital ethnography is an established field within ethnography, we don’t often hear of ethnographers building digital tools to conduct their fieldwork. Wendy Hsu wants to change that.

In the first of her four-part guest post series on Tricia Wang’s Ethnography Matters, she showed how ethnographers can use software, and even build their own software, to explore online communities.

Part 2 of of Wendy’s Digital Ethnography series focuses on the processing and interpreting part. In fascinating detail, Wendy discusses mapping as a mode of discovery. We learn how using a customized spatial “algorithm that balances point density and readability” can reveal patterns that inform the physical spread of musicians’ fans and friends globally. Geo-location data clarified her qualitative data.

In her next post she will talk about how we can discern patterns and discover new knowledge as take our data into other sensory dimensions such as the sonic. She will also formulate some thoughts regarding the issues around big data (or small data) from the perspective of ethnography.

5 December 2012

Using ethnography to study asthma

theasthmafiles

Ethnography can be used to inform important health and policy decisions. But there are few public case studies that illustrate the value of ethnography for this specific context. When Erik Bigras of EthnographyMatters learned about The Asthma Files, a project where ethnographers were not only gathering data to better understand asthma but also openly sharing the data, we became very excited to feature their work.

The Asthma Files was first envisioned in 2006 by Kim and Mike Fortun, who wanted to address the contested space of asthma research. One of Kim’s graduate students, Erik Bigras, became involved in the project in 2009. Although Erik’s original dissertation topic was on game design, his research evolved to include the Asthma Files as one of his fieldsites.

In the first post of their three-part series, Erik and Kim tell us about how they conceptualized The Asthma Files, why asthma deserves research attention from ethnographers, and how research data is shared on an open content management system.

Erik and Kim’s second post details the exciting process of choosing the best data sharing platform for their project, Plone. We learn about how the Tehran Asthma Files was born out of a close collaboration with the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at the University of California, Irvine.

The final post in this series will discuss how other researchers from social scientists to epidemiologists and global health experts can participate in the research project and make use of the data.

26 November 2012

Unpacking cars: doing anthropology at Intel (paper by Genevieve Bell)

unpackingcars

The fall 2011 issue of AnthroNotes (pdf) starts off with an article by Genevieve Bell, senior cultural anthropologist at Intel.

She describes her latest research project, designed to understand how cars around the world can serve as windows into the future of mobile technology and computers. The article also contains an ample but simply worded expose on why Intel has anthropologist and what they do.

“We wanted to see what people carried with them [in cars] and to understand how cars functioned as sites of technology consumption and human activity, and how they became imbued with meaning.” [...]

“Cars are a contested space when it comes to new technology. What makes sense to bring into a car, to leave in a car, or to install in a car – all are still being negotiated. This negotiation is being impacted by many factors – legislation, social regulation, guilt, perceptions of safety and crime, urban density, parking structures, commute time, just to name a few. As such, imagining and designing technologies for cars, for technologies to be used in cars, and for the worlds that cars will inhabit is a more nuanced undertaking than many imagine.” [...]

“Cars are so much more than forms of transportation. They are, in point of fact, highly charged objects. They say something about who we are and who we want to be. They are also part of much more complex systems, ecosystems, environments, and imaginations. In this way, cars resemble many other contemporary technologies: our smart phones, tablets, even tablets and e-readers.”

UPDATE: Video version is here.