Perspectives

Perspectives publishes leading global expertise about ethnography in business & organizations. Articles show how integrating theory and practice to understand human societies and cultures creates transformative value for people, businesses and the planet. If you’re interested in contributing, get in touch.

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Computation, Philosophy, and Indigenous Futures: A Conversation with Jason Edward Lewis

Jason Lewis showing his digital installation "His Blood in Search of a Face"
by CASIANA PASCARIU, Mesa Community College We’re honored and excited to welcome EPIC2021 keynote speaker Jason Edward Lewis, Professor of Computation Arts at Concordia University, to our conference and community! Lewis is a thinker and maker whose work on next-generation AI systems fuses the technical and creative, mechanical and philosophical, computational and cultural. This work illuminates core aspects of the EPIC2021 theme Anticipation—centering social and cultural practices at the heart of emerging technologies and expanding prevailing assumptions about where the future will come from. For Lewis, next-generation AI comes from Indigenous places: “Our aim is to articulate a multiplicity of Indigenous knowledge systems and technological practices that can and should be brought to bear on the ‘question of AI.’” In anticipation of a phenomenal keynote presentation, EPIC member Casiana Pascariu talked with Lewis about the trajectory of his life and work. We’re grateful to them for sharing this story. —Ed. “I...

Considering the Futures of Ethnography for Social Change: An Interview with Panthea Lee

Panthea Lee: As ethnographers we can guide conversations and support conflict mediation in ways that do not just further entrench people in their positions.
By VICTORIA LOWERSON BREDOW and CONNIE MCGUIRE, Research Justice Shop "As ethnographers we can guide conversations and support conflict mediation in ways that do not just further entrench people in their positions." —Panthea Lee In August 2021, we connected with EPIC2021 keynote speaker Panthea Lee—strategist, organizer, designer, and facilitator, and Executive Director of Reboot. Panthea is a pioneer in designing and guiding multi-stakeholder processes to address complex social challenges, with experience in 30+ countries with partners including UNDP, MacArthur Foundation, Luminate, CIVICUS, Wikimedia, Women’s Refugee Commission, and governments and civil society groups at the national, state, and local levels. We were excited to get to know Panthea, learn about her work, and now, share our conversation1 with the EPIC community in advance of her talk. How did you come to do the work you do now? —Victoria I am from Taiwan. My family lived there during one of the longest periods of martial law in the world, 38 years. I think...

Feedback Fatigue: Redesigning the Research Process for Sustainable Insights

The best textbook method may not be the best-applied method.
by CAITLIN MCCURRIE, Atlassian For the best-quality insights, design research for the experience of participating, not the method alone. When you think of running a diary study, we guess that Confluence isn’t the first research tool that comes to mind. Confluence is best known as a tool for knowledge management and team collaboration and not a platform to host a diary study, but with limitation comes creativity. In an effort to overcome the limitations in our research process we discovered an innovative and sustainable means to interact with our user population. From adapting Confluence into a longitudinal research tool to removing research tools and touchpoints, we’ve redesigned our research process to support ongoing contact with our user population. Through our journey, we’ve found three key learnings that have removed friction in the participation experience and improved the quality of our work. Design with your participant’s experience in mind, not just your preferred methodology. Use your knowledge of your population’s...

Putting the ‘Social’ Back in ‘Social Science’ Research

two silhouetted women talking in front of photographs of women, horse
By MIKKEL KRENCHEL, ReD Associates Three strategies for designing research that captures the social forces shaping people's behavior. Remember the days when a main challenge of the EPIC community was convincing executives that humans weren’t just rational actors all the time? Back when arguing for the value of ethnographic research, thick data, and so forth, started with getting executives to realize that there was more to people than what could be observed through a spreadsheet? Fortunately, those days are long gone. Today, most successful leaders of large corporations readily embrace the idea that humans are complex, emotional creatures and that the success of their business in large part rests on making the right bets on how they will behave. In response, research departments across the corporate world have grown exponentially in both size and sophistication, and ‘ethnographic research’ as a term has almost gone mainstream. It would be easy to conclude that it’s time to declare victory. But if you look a little closer...

When the Insights Matter, Humans Matter

Words painted on the road for pedestrians: "Edrychwch L'r Dde" "Look Right"
By JILL KUSHNER BISHOP, Multilingual Connections Machine translation can undermine nuanced research data and analysis—here's a close look at human/machine difference. Connecting with other people is at the heart of ethnographic research – understanding their perspectives, preferences, and behaviors helps organizations create and align offerings with consumers. Research relies on clear communication to optimize participant experience and develop meaningful insights from research results. Yet not all communication is created equal – especially when working in multiple languages. Translation by machine or an inexperienced translator often lacks cultural nuance and can miss the mark, resulting in a poor participant experience, study attrition, less than optimal interpretation, and ultimately insufficient research outcomes. To illustrate the differences in output between human and machine translation, we set up several experiments – first pitting human vs. machine and then pitting two experienced translators against each other....

Ethnographers Don’t Create Futures, People Do: Ethnographic Context and Facilitating Better Futures

by DINA MEHTA & STUART HENSHALL, Convo Ethnographic context helps people see alternate possibilities and situations where decisions may play out—and create better futures. The future, of course, is inherently unpredictable. As the EPIC2021 theme Anticipation begins, “There are no future facts. Yet we humans constantly create potential futures.” People create futures when they begin to see alternate possibilities and situations where their decisions—and those of others—may play out. This creates choices and potential options, while also identifying risks, implications of operating in a different world, and new areas for research and exploration. To do this, organizations need to be able to learn about the world “out there,” as well as understand and shift their own positioning within it. How can ethnographers facilitate this quest to anticipate the future? Our work has focused on the organizational change needed for our clients to see and create new potentials. As ethnographers we bring stories into the organization,...

An Embarrassment of Data: Why Businesses Should Focus on Hypothesis Building

Abstract
Collecting data doesn't create value on its own – businesses need to focus on building capabilities and honing strategy. by CYRIL MAURY, Stripe Partners "What a useful thing a pocket-map is!" I remarked. "That's another thing we've learned from your Nation," said Mein Herr, "map-making. But we've carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be useful?" "About six inches to the mile." "Only six inches!" exclaimed Mein Herr. "We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!" "Have you used it much?" I enquired. "It has never been spread out, yet," said Mein Herr: "the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well." —Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Chapter XI Backup 20,038 photos to save...

Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life

a book review by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life Gillian Tett 2021, 304 pp, Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster → Watch Simon Roberts in conversation with Gillian Tett & Donna Flynn Ulf Hannerz once proposed that “common sense is cultural ‘business as usual’; standard operating procedure, one’s perspective at rest” (127). Gillian Tett’s journalism unsettles perspectives at rest. If there’s one simple message for the general reader in her new book Anthro-Vision it is this: the promise and value of anthropology lies in making visible that which is close to hand but ignored. It offers a means to see the world differently. There’s also a message for those whose work involves the application of anthropological thinking or ethnography: we should revisit our own assumptions about how we conceive of and communicate our value. The book is a resounding call to arms in a world beset by a ‘tunnel vision’. What is the basis for Tett’s faith...

How Ethnographic Methods Make APIs More Usable

abstract design
by LIBBY KAUFER and MARIA VIDART-DELGADO, Ad Hoc LLC Ethnographic methods that center systems-thinking, how knowledge is constructed, and how knowledge is shared among communities are the best approach for developing collective digital products like APIs. Application Programming Interfaces, commonly known as APIs, connect the front-end interfaces we see when we navigate the internet (like websites and apps) to the back-end systems, or databases, that store information. APIs enable people to carry out transactions online, like purchasing goods, booking flights, or applying for government benefits. While they are invisible to end-users, APIs are crucially important to developers and to the way many websites, programs, and applications function. Like codebases and databases, APIs are objects consumed collectively and collaboratively by teams of developers who work together to integrate front-end to back-end systems, run tests, and monitor and troubleshoot integration issues. In the context of APIs, typical UX research methods...

Best Laid Plans…An Ethnographic Approach to Foresight

by STEWART ALLEN, MindSpark With an ethnographic lens on foresight and planning, we can see how futures unfold through people's daily journeys of anticipation and improvisation. What is Foresight? Foresight is an umbrella term used to describe a wide variety of methodologies and approaches for considering and preparing for possible and probable futures in order to help inform present and future courses of action. Today, it is an important and widely deployed practice that has developed in a variety of fields, from public policy such as state and town planning, to technology and R&D, and more recently strategic and financial approaches in business fields to help ensure the long-term survival and success of companies. Many of the approaches that come under the umbrella of foresight blend into one another. The majority of approaches to foresight typically employ pre-defined categories in their analysis – identifying trends in the social, technological, economic, and political spheres and extrapolating these using various...

Ethnography for Sensemaking in Times of Trauma

Photo from book cover 0f "Dealing in Desire"
a book review by SHARON BAUTISTA, Mozilla Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work Kimberly Kay Hoang 2015, 248pp, University of California Press The Labor of Care: Filipina Migrants and Transnational Families in the Digital Age Valerie Francisco-Menchavez 2018, 256pp, University of Illinois Press The March 16 shootings in the Atlanta-area of Georgia in the southern United States, when a person shot dead eight people, including six Asian women, sent me into deep grief. I could barely register the text messages from concerned friends recognizing me as an Asian woman and offering support. Trying to muster the focus to work the next day, I felt the urge to mute the Slack streams of sincere acknowledgements and thoughtful compilations of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) resources shared by co-workers. Alongside my grief, I was frustrated by the meager news coverage of the people—and specifically the Asian women—who were murdered. There seemed almost...

How Ethnographic Exhibits Can Shift Business Paradigms

Photo of a neighborhood shop (warung) in Indonesia
by ADRI REKSODIPOETRO (Nation) and ALEXANDRA MCCARTER (Spotify) Through the art of exhibition, curators immerse people in new worlds and new points of view, whether by transporting visitors to 18th century India or through challenging art history’s colonial gaze. The goal of an exhibition is a shift in perspective, to move people to think differently about something than they did before. Researchers do something similar: our first task is to learn something new, but the ultimate goal is to share what we learn in a way that shifts the perspectives of our colleagues, organizations or clients. In this article, we show how we applied curation techniques for a project we worked on together at Spotify. The project focused on understanding people in Indonesia who bought Spotify Premium, and the exhibition served as our main deliverable. The exhibition jump-started a new way of thinking about Spotify users because it enabled our colleagues to experience a different understanding of value and music streaming in the country. Why an Exhibition,...

Move Fast, Break Shit, Burn Out: The Catalyst’s Guide to Working Well

a book review by TABITHA STEAGER, Workday Move Fast, Break Shit, Burn Out: The Catalyst’s Guide to Working Well Tracey Lovejoy and Shannon Lucas 2020, 305 pp, Lioncrest As I write this, we’re just a few months into 2021, and, well, the world hasn’t magically changed. When the clocks ticked over on December 31, it felt as if there was a collective, cautious sigh of relief while we continued to hold space for the grief and turmoil so many of us have experienced in the last year. Instead, we’re still in a sort of stasis globally, waiting for vaccine numbers to reach critical mass and learning how to combat new virus variants, so you’d be excused in feeling like this stasis is the new normal. Yet the days are getting longer and on my walks I see the snowdrops pushing their way up through the ground. It feels a little corny to write this, but spring is coming. It has been a long, upending year that’s left me on the edge of burnout (fully over the edge of burnout some days if I’m completely honest) and even more...

Evaluating Food Delivery in a Pandemic: Usability & Ethnographic Principles to Guide Consumers

By CHARU AHUJA, Consumer Reports For almost 85 years, Consumer Reports has been detecting and anticipating shifts in consumer need for products and services so that we can guide consumer choice with rigorous research and testing. When the COVID-19 pandemic started to peak in March 2020 in the U.S., our ability to access the 63 product testing labs at our site changed. These labs house specialized equipment, such as a pressurized water dunk tank that is used to simulate conditions that electronics like phones and watches must be able to withstand if their manufacturers claim they are waterproof. And CR’s anechoic chamber removes all reflective sound signals, allowing a clean read on noise levels emitted by products. Such specialized equipment allows CR’s product testing experts to conduct repeatable and accurate testing across a large number of competing models in any given product category. Like most other organizations, we had to quickly pivot. To the extent possible, our product testers set up makeshift labs in their homes,...

加速用户研究:在Spotify我们如何从速度出发管理用研洞察

What's slowing down user research? 4 speech bubbles with text: I have this amazing idea! Can we go validate it? / How's the user experience of this screen? / We are shipping next week but need to get this in from of users first! / Let's all work in lockstep like the good partners we are!
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ENGLISH: Accelerating User Research: How We Structure Insights for Speed At Spotify 作者:SARA BELT, Spotify 不同于以往考虑我们如何能加快用户研究的速度,现在的问题变成我们该如何更好地将用户研究整合到产品开发流程中,以及加快组织学习和迭代的速度。 一直以来,由于人们认为用户研究的有效性较低,用户研究所得的洞察都在产品开发中被边缘化。我在职业生涯的第一阶段致力于提倡组织为什么该积极地听取用户的意见和想法,为什么每一个人应该相信定性见解可用于指导他们的决策,以及为什么用户研究是需要专业技能的实践领域。 随着用户研究逐渐证明贡献价值的能力,对于其效度的质疑和争论也在日趋减少。从数据、证据和同理心的角度来考虑产品的设计已经成为一种既定的方式。 在像在Spotify这样的公司中,用户研究的需求在快速增长,我们不得不开始考虑如何将用户研究的实践规模化。新的、更实质性的问题开始出现,要求我们以更快速度来创造价值的能力能够与快速将产品推向市场的财务和竞争优势相匹配。用户研究,或者是更广义上的洞察,一直因为产出速度慢而备受诟病...