Considering the Futures of Ethnography for Social Change: An Interview with Panthea Lee

Panthea Lee: As ethnographers we can guide conversations and support conflict mediation in ways that do not just further entrench people in their positions.
By VICTORIA LOWERSON BREDOW and CONNIE MCGUIRE, Research Justice Shop "As ethnographers we can guide conversations and support conflict mediation in ways that do not just further entrench people in their positions." —Panthea Lee In August 2021, we connected with EPIC2021 keynote speaker Panthea Lee—strategist, organizer, designer, and facilitator, and Executive Director of Reboot. Panthea is a pioneer in designing and guiding multi-stakeholder processes to address complex social challenges, with experience in 30+ countries with partners including UNDP, MacArthur Foundation, Luminate, CIVICUS, Wikimedia, Women’s Refugee Commission, and governments and civil society groups at the national, state, and local levels. We were excited to get to know Panthea, learn about her work, and now, share our conversation1 with the EPIC community in advance of her talk. How did you come to do the work you do now? —Victoria I am from Taiwan. My family lived there during one of the longest periods of martial law in the world, 38 years. I think...

Feedback Fatigue: Redesigning the Research Process for Sustainable Insights

The best textbook method may not be the best-applied method.
by CAITLIN MCCURRIE, Atlassian For the best-quality insights, design research for the experience of participating, not the method alone. When you think of running a diary study, we guess that Confluence isn’t the first research tool that comes to mind. Confluence is best known as a tool for knowledge management and team collaboration and not a platform to host a diary study, but with limitation comes creativity. In an effort to overcome the limitations in our research process we discovered an innovative and sustainable means to interact with our user population. From adapting Confluence into a longitudinal research tool to removing research tools and touchpoints, we’ve redesigned our research process to support ongoing contact with our user population. Through our journey, we’ve found three key learnings that have removed friction in the participation experience and improved the quality of our work. Design with your participant’s experience in mind, not just your preferred methodology. Use your knowledge of your population’s...

Putting the ‘Social’ Back in ‘Social Science’ Research

two silhouetted women talking in front of photographs of women, horse
By MIKKEL KRENCHEL, ReD Associates Three strategies for designing research that captures the social forces shaping people's behavior. Remember the days when a main challenge of the EPIC community was convincing executives that humans weren’t just rational actors all the time? Back when arguing for the value of ethnographic research, thick data, and so forth, started with getting executives to realize that there was more to people than what could be observed through a spreadsheet? Fortunately, those days are long gone. Today, most successful leaders of large corporations readily embrace the idea that humans are complex, emotional creatures and that the success of their business in large part rests on making the right bets on how they will behave. In response, research departments across the corporate world have grown exponentially in both size and sophistication, and ‘ethnographic research’ as a term has almost gone mainstream. It would be easy to conclude that it’s time to declare victory. But if you look a little closer...

When the Insights Matter, Humans Matter

Words painted on the road for pedestrians: "Edrychwch L'r Dde" "Look Right"
By JILL KUSHNER BISHOP, Multilingual Connections Machine translation can undermine nuanced research data and analysis—here's a close look at human/machine difference. Connecting with other people is at the heart of ethnographic research – understanding their perspectives, preferences, and behaviors helps organizations create and align offerings with consumers. Research relies on clear communication to optimize participant experience and develop meaningful insights from research results. Yet not all communication is created equal – especially when working in multiple languages. Translation by machine or an inexperienced translator often lacks cultural nuance and can miss the mark, resulting in a poor participant experience, study attrition, less than optimal interpretation, and ultimately insufficient research outcomes. To illustrate the differences in output between human and machine translation, we set up several experiments – first pitting human vs. machine and then pitting two experienced translators against each other....

Ethnographers Don’t Create Futures, People Do: Ethnographic Context and Facilitating Better Futures

by DINA MEHTA & STUART HENSHALL, Convo Ethnographic context helps people see alternate possibilities and situations where decisions may play out—and create better futures. The future, of course, is inherently unpredictable. As the EPIC2021 theme Anticipation begins, “There are no future facts. Yet we humans constantly create potential futures.” People create futures when they begin to see alternate possibilities and situations where their decisions—and those of others—may play out. This creates choices and potential options, while also identifying risks, implications of operating in a different world, and new areas for research and exploration. To do this, organizations need to be able to learn about the world “out there,” as well as understand and shift their own positioning within it. How can ethnographers facilitate this quest to anticipate the future? Our work has focused on the organizational change needed for our clients to see and create new potentials. As ethnographers we bring stories into the organization,...