EPIC People

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...

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...

Acknowledging Differences for Design: Tracing Values and Beliefs in Photo Use

CONNOR GRAHAM and MARK ROUNCEFIELD This paper explores links between ethnographic approaches, technology design and use and values and beliefs. We document recent empirical work on the use of photographs amongst Chinese families; pointing to some differences with previous empirical studies from predominantly Western cultures and tentatively linking Chinese photo work to rather broader cultural values that may develop some ‘sensitivities’ for design. For some time ethnography has been interested in ‘values’ in methodological approaches and concerns. The notion of ‘values’ is also repeatedly called upon in ethnographic studies of (technology for) the home. In this appeal these studies tellingly echo Peter Winch’s sentiments regarding how, in general, social life can be understood only through a understanding of beliefs. This paper documents and explicates photo work amongst Chinese families, linking the families’ own explanations and comments about these practices to much wider, if particular, sets of social and cultural...

The Power of Participant-Made Videos: Intimacy and Engagement with Corporate Ethnographic Video

SUSAN FAULKNER and ALEXANDRA ZAFIROGLU Participant-generated, self-made videos engender powerful, often highly emotional, reactions from viewers who experience a stronger connection and identification with participants and their experiences than we have ever achieved with researcher-shot footage. Reactions have ranged from shock, discomfort, and offers of Freudian psychological analyses to laughter, immediate recognition and discovery. Through several video examples from recent fieldwork we explore the reasons for this heightened reaction, and raise questions related to representation, authenticity, intimacy and the role of the ethnographer in the age of YouTube, social networking sites, and reality TV. What is the ethnographer’s role when participants share their lives in videos we request that are stylistically similar to online user-generated content? What is that ethnographer’s ‘Do’, and what role does she play in editing, framing and presenting these videos? How do participants conceptualize what they are creating?...

Becoming the Subject: A Comparison of Ethnographic and Autoethnographic Data for New Product Development

KEREN SOLOMON As companies become more interested in innovation, design, and the creation of experiences, they are increasingly utilizing ethnography as a way to understand their customers and potential customers. However, for most companies ethnography is still conducted in the classical sense, with researchers observing and talking to participants in order to draw out insights about the “other.” Few consider the use of autoethnography, that is, having people deeply and rigorously study themselves in order to produce a richer description of the problem space and of how new products might potentially solve those problems. This paper draws on two research projects conducted by the author, compares the data collection methods and research results obtained with both approaches, and suggests some ways in which using an autoethnographic approach could lead to more insightful research results. It also raises questions about how we as researchers can increase our understanding of and respect for what it really means to be a research subject....

Practice at the Crossroads: When Practice Meets Theory, A Rumination

MELISSA CEFKIN Consumer practices, work practices, not to mention management, design and research practices. The notion of “practice” remains core to much of what ethnographers in industry examine, expose and aim to inform. This paper questions: while we study practice(s), while we may frame our research and analysis with sensitivity towards rendering visible the richness or particularity of peoples’ practice, what have we really learned about practice? In part aimed at considering whether and how the work performed by ethnographers in industry advances or critiques theories of practice as explored by Bourdieu and others, the paper aims to reconcile the fact that we are “there” at the behest of our business counterparts to have an impact and affect change. So the question shifts from not only how we use and understand concepts of practice to how it frames the expectations of our business partners and stakeholders. What I have found is that there is both productive overlap and significant slippage between our (theoretically...

Listening with Indifference

ALEX S. TAYLOR, LAUREL SWAN and DAVE RANDALL In the following, we suggest that the product of ethnographies undertaken for commercial and industrial purposes is under threat of losing its integrity. The sorts of results furnished through ‘applied ethnography’ and those resulting from methods like focus groups, interviews, questionnaires, etc. appear largely of the same kind; they describe and codify the members of a setting and their behaviours, and differ, if at all, in terms of depth and detail. In short, it is not easy to distinguish between the product of applied ethnography and that produced from the many other methods available. This apparent dissolution begs the question ‘what’s left’ for applied ethnography and, indeed, for its practitioners? We report on our efforts to take this question seriously and reflect on how ‘the ethnomethodological policy of indifference’ has offered a useful starting point. Having situated this policy in a disciplinary context, we offer brief examples of how its insistence on a distinct...