Advancing the Value of Ethnography

“In the Age of Data, Businesses Can’t Forget about Observation”


IMG_2414Last week at EPIC2016, award-winning business journalist Lee Schafer of the Star-Tribune joined EPIC Members and distinguished guest panelists in pre-conference sessions to tackle core strategic issues in our field:

How do we convince corporate executives that ethnographic insight is valuable to business strategy? How do we do rigorous work in an environment that constantly demands “better-cheaper-now”?

One challenge, Schafer observes, is that ethnographers do “the kind of in-depth research that doesn’t easily lead to a full database of numbers or series of elegant charts. The boss knows what ‘market research’ is, yet that doesn’t quite describe what they do, either.”

Panelists and EPIC Members shared tactics—from storytelling and video, to facilitating immersive experiences far from corporate headquarters—for communicating the power of ethnography to the C-suite, clients and stakeholders. “Data-driven decision making” is the gold standard in management these days, but the most valuable information may not be a crunchable number.

Schafer writes, “the best leaders also understand the limitations of the computer model and will ask to be shown a very clear picture of the problems of a real person who could one day use their product.”

Flush with examples of the value of ethnography, he concludes, “Now ethnography doesn’t sound ivory tower, it sounds like common sense.”

→ Read the Full Article by Lee Schafer of the Star-Tribune

→ Learn about EPIC Membership

More Resources

Beyond the Toolbox: What Ethnographic Thinking Can Offer in a Shifting Marketplace, Jay Hasbrouck (Hasbrouck Research Group)

Unleashing the Power of an Analytics Organization: Why a Large Financial Institution Used Ethnography to Transform Analytics, Christine Birtel et al. (Wells Fargo)

Going with the Gut: The Case for Combining Instinct and Data, Simon Roberts (Stripe Partners)

Choice-Making with Head and Heart: Finding the Ethnographic Center of Strategy, Donna Flynn (Steelcase)