DONNA FLYNN

Contributed Articles

The Future is Yours

DONNA K. FLYNN Vice President of WorkSpace Futures, Steelcase EPIC2018 Keynote Address Donna Flynn is Vice President of WorkSpace Futures and Market Insights at Steelcase. She leads a global team of researchers that delve into wicked problems around the future of work and translate those insights to inform the design of strategies, products, and services. Flynn joined Steelcase in 2011 from Microsoft, where she held a number of user experience leadership roles in product groups focused on mobility, healthcare, and consumer strategy. Prior to Microsoft, she led client projects for Sapient in San Francisco, working with technology and telecommunications clients such as Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, and Sprint. Earlier in her career she worked on international development and microfinance with the International Center for Research on Women, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the World Bank. Flynn received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Northwestern University in 1997. She has been a leader in the EPIC community...

Tracing the Arc of Ethnographic Impact: Success and (In)visibility of Our Work and Identities

DONNA K. FLYNN and TRACEY LOVEJOY This paper explores ways in which ethnographic impact in a large technology corporation is perceived, re-defined, and recognized – by both practitioners themselves and corporate stakeholders. The authors trace a history of ethnographic successes and stumbles, and ways they have confronted a strong usability paradigm that has shaped organizational assumptions of impact and value for product research. They then identify ways in which contextual analysis of their own practice in the corporation led to the successful creation of a strategic engagement model for ethnography, resulting in its growing influence. Through critical analysis of the conditions of influence in their own organization, the authors’ propose some broader frameworks for ethnographic impact and raise some questions for the EPIC community regarding business value, ethnographic identity, and organizational authority....

“Name That Segment!”: Questioning the Unquestioned Authority of Numbers

DONNA K. FLYNN, TRACEY LOVEJOY, DAVID SIEGEL and SUSAN DRAY In many companies, numbers equal authority. Quantitative data is often viewed as more definitive than qualitative data, while its shortcomings are overlooked. Many of us have worked to marry quantitative with qualitative methods inside organizations to present a fuller view of the people for whom we develop. One area of research that increasingly needs to blend quantitative and qualitative methods is user segmentations. Our software technology product team has been using a segmentation based on quantitative data since 2005. One outcome of this effort has been the development of an algorithm–based “typing” tool intended to be used as a standard tool in recruiting for all segmentation-focused research. We learned that the algorithm was an indecipherable black box, its inner workings opaque even to those who owned it internally. This case study looks at how qualitative research came up against the impenetrable authority of a quantitative segmentation and its associated...

Choice-Making with Head and Heart: Finding the Ethnographic Center of Strategy

by DONNA K. FLYNN, PhD; Vice President, WorkSpace Futures, Steelcase Being an anthropologist has been a core part of my personal identity since graduate school – not because of all the years of schooling or the grueling dissertation, but because a holistic, systemic, and people-centered perspective on the world became woven into the fabric of who I am. The power of ethnography is not in its methods, but in the way it shapes our perspective on the world. We frame complex problems in holistic ways, seek out connections between micro-behaviors and macro-dynamics, and are inspired by the rich color of people’s stories. An ethnographic perspective helps us find meaning in everything we look at. Applying that perspective in our work is about translating that meaning into action. These skills are all fundamental to the choice-making enterprise of business strategy. Recently I have had the great fortune to facilitate and inspire strategy development alongside leaders of multi-million dollar businesses, and truly experiment with...