Agency and Change: Using Anthropology to Improve Organizational Change

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10 September 2019, 11:00am–12:30pm Pacific Time, online event
Free for EPIC Members, pre-registration required

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The language of change is practically ubiquitous these days: from tech startups to legacy manufacturers and government agencies, organizations of every stripe want to innovate, grow, pivot, reorient, or disrupt. But although the language of change is varied, the burgeoning field of change management is dominated by simplistic models of how to lead it—and notably, who should lead it. As a result, these models often fail to deliver. This is particularly true with efforts to change internal cultures and teams.

In this talk we’ll explore how ethnographers can use common concepts from social theory to understand organizations more rigorously and act more effectively as "change agents." We will revisit several models of organizational change through the lens of agency: What kind of agency is implied by a particular kind of change? What internal and external dynamics will this require and produce? What are the formal and hidden “rules” for engagement? What are the risks and rewards for beliefs and behaviors? What kinds of engagement are most effective for making change in those contexts?

As organizations take on change management initiatives to improve diversity, agility, or bottom lines, ethnographers can be at the forefront of these efforts with richer, more dynamic models of agency, thereby improving the likelihood of success.


Katharine Sieck

Kate Sieck, PhD, leads the business intelligence function for the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, non-partisan policy research and design organization. Her team is central to helping the organization understand the changing competitive landscape, identify emergent trends and areas for policy work, and position itself for success moving forward. Across her career in academia, private sector and now public sector work, her driving goal has been to use core anthropological theory and methods to build accessible, rigorous frameworks for understanding collective human behavior.

Steven Garcia leads the cultural anthropology practice at Team One, a full-service communications agency based in Los Angeles that specializes in premium and aspirational brands. With over 13 years of experience as a brand strategist, he studies and translates the broader cultural shifts and phenomena influencing consumer behavior into actionable opportunities for brands to help solve their sticky business challenges. Using his training in anthropological theory, ethnographic methods, and cultural analysis, he ensures that communication strategies are culturally informed and provides contextual insights to inspire new thinking and approaches.