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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…

EPIC2019 Proceedings Are Here!

EPIC2019 AGENCY in Providence, RI, was a blast of activity, provocation, conversation, and learning. Now you can access the conference online! All articles are FREE to read, download, and share with your colleagues, teams, clients, and in-laws. They include full-length papers and case studies, as well as abstracts of all presentations. Conference video is available…

Agency and the Climate Emergency

EPIC2019 Panel, Providence, Rhode Island Moderator: DAN LOCKTON, Director of the Imaginaries Lab & Chair of Design Studies, Carnegie Mellon University Panelists: MAKALÉ FABER CULLEN, Urban Soils Fellow, Anthropocene, Urban Soils Institute GYORGYI GALIK, Lead Advisor, Architecture and Built Environment Team, Design Council; Royal College of Art MIKE YOUNGBLOOD, Principal, Youngblood Group What are ethnographers’ roles in dealing with catastrophic climate crisis? Should we be exploring people’s experiences of change, trying to use our insights to help drive individual and collective action at scale through organizations, or helping civil society deal with the consequences? In this diverse set of presentations, panelists share ethnographic and design approaches to climate that engage communities, products, policy, artists, activists, and more. They examine tensions, responsibilities, and value that ethnographic practice can bring to one of the biggest issues for our collective futures....

Evolutionary Matryoshka: Mapping the Dimensions of the Evolutionary Forces Impacting Survival of Ethnographic Insights within a Large Financial Enterprise

ARI NAVE and ZACH LEV Evolutionary forces are applied as a framework for understanding the dynamics that determine which insights, generated from a corporately-funded ethnography, flourish in the organization and which fail to thrive. Using duel-inheritance theory model, the paper explores sui generis elements of the ideas themselves, contextual variables, the mechanics and mediums of transmission, as well as contextual selective pressures such as how organizational structures trigger prestige bias. Leveraging anecdotal data, the paper points to the value of evolutionary theory as a framework for understanding broad patterns of information dissemination....

Changing Models of Ownership and Value Exchange

RICHARD RADKA and ABBY MARGOLIS From cars to music, houses to handbags, growing numbers of people no longer aspire to own. Belongings that used to be the standard for measuring personal success, status and security are increasingly being borrowed, traded, or simply left on the shelf. In the last 5 years, we’ve seen massive growth in new business models in which people are willing to tradeoff the right to own a product, in the fullest sense of that term (indefinite access, right to transfer, etc.), for new kinds of social capital. Indeed the integration of social capital with commodity work has been noted as an important new mutation in the private sector. New businesses are spawning to help people make use of products that otherwise sit underutilized including the spare bedroom, the snow blower, the ladder or extra bike. These new businesses span vertical industries and appeal to audiences at a range of socioeconomic levels....

No More Circling around the Block: Evolving a Rapid Ethnography and Podcasting Method to Guide Innovation in Parking Systems

JAMES GLASNAPP and ELLEN ISAACS After many years with little innovation in parking technology, many cities are now exploring new systems meant to improve the use of limited parking real estate, reduce congestion, increase parking convenience, and raise additional revenue. We did an observational study to inform the design of one such novel parking system, and in doing so developed an ethnographic method we call REACT (Rapid Ethnographic Assessment and Communication Technique). REACT uses observational methods to uncover key findings relatively quickly and increases the impact of those findings by communicating them through an engaging video podcast. In this paper, we describe the REACT method and show how we used it to discover several key findings regarding parking practices that changed our team’s thinking about the intended customer, highlighted some critical design issues, and revealed unanticipated opportunities for new technology solutions. The video podcasts were extremely well received and ultimately affected the thinking of...

Replacing the Network Society with Social Foam: A Revolution for Corporate Ethnography?

NINA WAKEFORD What would it mean for corporate ethnography to think of society not as a network, but rather as an agglomeration of bubbles that constitute foam? The article offers a comparison of the metaphors of network and foam and their implications for the analysis of contemporary sociality. It draws on the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s theory that we live not in one mono-spherical society but rather in apluralityofmicro-spherestobedescribedassocialfoam. Anemphasisonatmospheres,affectand contagiousness follows from this conceptualization of the social world. These consequences are discussed, and some suggestions offered of how Sloterdijk’s ideas might shift the focus of corporate ethnography. Although primarily a conceptual intervention, the article also describes how organizational theory has started to deploy the concept of social foam. It concludes with a reexamination, through a focus on atmospheres, of a previous study undertaken at Intel, which shifts the emphasis of the analysis....

The Luminosity of the Local

MICHAEL DONOVAN This paper seeks to capture the local in Locavore—both its concrete and symbolic character. Locavore is a kind of nascent identity that emerges from constellations of social relationships, self-defining “food communities”, made up of consumers and farmers and chefs, and food writers and environmentalists of various stripes. These communities live in the blogosphere, tweets and other media as well as through face-to-face relationships and transactions. At their core are representations of the local—in foods, dishes, recipes, meals, places, and persons. Place-bound identities that in some theoretically interesting ways transcend place. Drawing on classical anthropological theory and recent studies in cultural geography, we explore ways in which the local is invented and given representational power in the creation of face to face and digital communities. Implications for branding, marketing and understanding the continued power of place-bound identities in the very constitution of digitized and globalized worlds.1...

Unclear Social Etiquette Online: How Users Experiment (and Struggle) with Interacting across Many Channels and Devices in an Ever-Evolving and Fast-Changing Landscape Of Communication Tools

MARTIN ORTLIEB People care and worry about how online and online/offline interactions should practically happen. They experiment with different tools and different visions of themselves in different situations, be they online or offline or across both. However, they feel there is no established etiquette about how purely online relationships should be conducted, but also how to transform relationships that began ‘online only’ into their social environments that reach beyond the Web. In this paper, I illustrate how user expectations of the desired practical experience conflict with the predominant model, “concentric circles of social distance,” that underlies most tools/services. Through six strategies of user workarounds I show glimpses of models that users do employ as they struggle to find stable ground for moral and ethical behavior as they experiment with interactions online....

What Happens When You Mix Bankers, Insurers, Consultants, Anthropologists and Designers: The Saga of Project FiDJI in France

ALICE PEINADO, MAGDALENA JARVIN and JULIETTE DAMOISEL This essay explores an initiative carried on by a group of three banks , two insurance companies and a consulting firm, European leader in the field of innovation, towards the development of a methodology aimed at innovating through a user-centered approach in design. The project, baptized “Projet FiDJI – Finance, Design et Joie d’Innover”, brought together sponsors of the banking and insurance sectors with ethnographers and designers within an academic lead context. The aim was to develop a methodological approach that would push banks and insurances to shift their focus from the more traditional, marketing lead quantitative studies towards a more qualitative appreciation of their clients. In so doing, it tried to re-position the main strategic approach of the institutions involved from that of product focused companies to user focused, service oriented ones. Project FiDJI was awarded the highly competitive label of “innovative and strategic project” by France’s “Pôle...

Shining a Light on Agency: Examining Responses to Resource Constraints to Uncover Opportunities for Design

EMMA J. ROSE and ROBERT RACADIO People employ creative ways to overcome the challenges of daily life. The construct of agency is a productive area of inquiry when considering how people respond to these challenges. Exploring moments of agency provides an embodied understanding of people’s motivations and helps reveal the structural and technological barriers they encounter every day. We propose a framework of agency and three corresponding categories: resourcefulness, resilience, and powerlessness. This framework was developed while working with data from two design ethnographies: one in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and the other in Seattle, Washington....

Cracking Representations of Emerging Markets: It’s Not Just about Affordability

KATHI KITNER, RENEE KURIYAN and SCOTT D. MAINWARING This paper will examine the social factors that mediate technology adoption among the emerging middle class in order to show how messaging, positioning, and targeting communications to potential consumers, if based on flawed representations, such as the First Time Buyer, can lead to missed market opportunities, or worse. We advocate an alternative approach based on ethnographic frameworks that can help to gauge the social viability of products, deconstructing these assumptions and notions to help smooth the path of technology adoption in emerging markets. To represent our findings, we created a “tool,” the “Social Viability Measure (SVM),” to help private industry and others approach new markets by bringing an understanding of social forces into the strategic planning, messaging and positioning of products....

Hyper-Skilling: The Collaborative Ethnographer

WILLIAM REESE, WIBKE FLEISCHER and HIDESHI HAMAGUCHI Time, budget, and resource pressures will impact ethnographic work into the foreseeable future. As “de-skilling” threatens ethnography—disrupting an integrated, holistic approach and output—we must seek new work practices. We have advocated and implemented an explicitly integrative model of collaborative practice, which interconnects the knowledge domains within a cross-disciplinary team to generate effective, powerful insights. This model, which we will call hyper-skilling, focuses on assembling knowledge and communication with other key perspectives such as branding and marketing strategy, historical analysis, trends forecasting, and in many cases design and engineering. Each plays a key role in determining a company's course of action. We also argue that the multi-disciplinary team model is well-suited to corporate settings and the conditions in which ethnographers are increasingly asked to practice. Intended or not, academic environments tend to promote the isolation of...

On Radical Evolution

BRUCE STERLING Thanks a lot. I enjoy being the last keynote speaker, because it means nobody gets to leave until I say.Thanks for having me in. It's been a very edifying three days. I enjoyed it here. I'm not gonna try not to keep you, because the weather is beautiful. But I have rather a lot on my mind today.Because I have this writing assignment which I've been working on, which ties in closely with the theme of your conference on “Evolution and Revolution". It has to do with this interesting book written by colleague of mine. His book is called “Radical Evolution,” like this speech. “Radical Evolution: the Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies and What It Means To Be Human.” The author of this book is now the Lincoln Professor of Law Culture and Values at Arizona State University, and his name is Joel Garreau. And Professor Garreau has this website, which is called “The Prevail Project,” where he wants to grapple with the problems he describes in this book. Or maybe acquaint many of us with what he...

Toward Industrialization of Ethnography

TAKANORI UGAI, KOUJI AOYAMA and AKIHIKO OBATA This paper explores a way to expand business using ethnography as an industrial service or product. First, a challenge that companies are facing and trying to deal with, which is industrialization is described. In the software industry, as computer prices go down, the requirements for software development involve accurate estimates of the cost, the time and the resources involved in the process. Due to these new market demands, software development reached a level of maturity, which required a new approach to product development. Likewise, as ethnography grows into more intricate realms, there is a need for a more robust approach to ethnography application in business to help it achieve the right maturity level of industrialized processes. In this context of complexity, case studies from Fujitsu and examples from literature were used to test the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) framework to use to evaluate the practice of ethnography in business. As a result, a brief assessment...