Intelligences

The best global expertise on ethnography in business, including articles, case studies, webinars & conference video.

Read more

Where Were You During Covid-19? An Ethnographic Lens on Local Life in a Global Pandemic

hand washing station
by PATRICIA L. SUNDERLAND, CRAstudio.com Where were you during Covid-19? The question seems destined to become a standard conversation piece at future get-togethers. For professional anthropologists and ethnographers, we can also add in questions about what was looked at, listened to, thought about, done and imagined for the future. Gillian Tett, anthropologist and US editorial board chair at the Financial Times, for instance, wrote about the Covid-19 culture shock she experienced in London. The relative lack of mask wearing there was in stark contrast to the strict masking she had become accustomed to as an “embedded—and embodied—part of life” in her New York City neighborhood. In Paris, Dominique Desjeux, professional anthropologist, professor, and coordinator of the French applied anthropology network Antropik, created an auto-ethnographic video of what he and family members were doing and attending to in their apartment during the early confinement phase in March 2020. In my case, I spent most of 2020 in Addis Ababa,...

Your Client Relationship Is an Ethnographic Field

artwork by andres musta, faces drawn on name tags
by JOHN CURRAN, JC Associates John is teaching a new EPIC Course, Creating Impact with Projects & Clients: Leveraging Organizational Culture. Hope you enjoy this article and check out his course! —ed. Some years ago a renowned UK-based charity invited me to help them understand why their legacy donations had flat lined for two years. The conventional wisdom had been that charitable donations had decreased as a result of the financial crisis in 2008. But when a statistical analysis showed that donations to other, similar sized charities were in fact increasing, they realized the problem was not just macroeconomics. The charity wanted new insights to explain their stagnation. Organizations generally hire ethnographers to help them understand the world “out there,” and that was the brief my contract client produced. But delivering insights is not the same as creating value. I quickly discovered that for insights to matter, the scope of my project—from kick-off to signoff—would have to include the client’s organizational...

Retooling Our Skill Set for Resilience: Ethnography in Project Risk Analysis and Quality Assurance

by PATRICIA ENSWORTH, Harborlight Management Services LLC & New York University In the months since the Covid-19 pandemic began disrupting everyone’s lives, people and organizations worldwide have adapted quickly for the sake of survival. This is a matter of long-term intellectual interest for ethnographers – but also, sometimes urgently, of short-term solvency. Some jobs, we now notice, really are essential for the ongoing functioning of a civilized society. Others…well, recently Bloomberg News published an Opinion article entitled “Coronavirus: Anybody Need a Management Consultant? Thought Not.” The industries we serve are in the midst of a whiplash pivot: A sports stadium becomes a field hospital. A restaurant becomes a general store. Physical workplaces are entirely redesigned. And so we might ask ourselves, Are there ways in which ethnographers can contribute to these efforts, repurposing our practices and expertise, especially as organizations plan for fundamental, lasting changes in their operations? During...

New EPIC Board President

EPIC welcomes Simon Roberts as our new Board President! Simon is Co-founder and Partner at Stripe Partners, a strategy and innovation consultancy based in London. He has been a committed member of the EPIC community since our first conference in 2005, and he co-chaired EPIC2012 and EPIC2013. He recently published The Power of Not Thinking, and has contributed many EPIC articles and presentation. I’m delighted and honoured to step into the role of EPIC board president, and I want to start by acknowledging our outgoing president Maria Bezaitis. During her tenure Maria led EPIC beyond our original mission to convene an annual conference. Her vision…

Using Employee Opinion Surveys Ethnographically

by MERITXELL RAMÍREZ-I-OLLÉ When my boss asked me to carry out an employee opinion survey in our company, I had to overcome my ingrained prejudices against surveys in general. Once I did, I learned how valuable an ethnographic approach to surveys can be. In my previous academic work, I had embedded myself into a scientific community for more than three years and I disregarded surveys as a comparatively superficial research technique. In my consultancy work, I have also encountered sharp criticism of the way surveys are used in practice: Erica Hall calls surveys “the most dangerous research tool,” and Sam Ladner’s fabulous guide to doing ethnography in the private sector (2012:17), emphasizes the value of ethnography that captures the perspectives of research participants, as opposed to tools like surveys that reflect the “etic” position of researchers. Yet, if there’s something I am learning about my ongoing transition to the private sector, it is that I must be flexible about methods and become more creative about...