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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Facing the Future in Product Development: Prediction and Uncertainty in Decision Making

flower heads with sky in the background
Prediction can create a false sense of certainty – at great cost. Can uncertainty establish a more effective foundation for product development? by HELI RANTAVUO, Spotify Foresight. Tends. Megatrends. Forecasting. Speculative design. Predictive modelling. Impact estimating. These are some of the established methods that researchers and analysts use in trying to understand what the future might look like, and how the organisations we work for and with approach the future. A variety of research and design techniques are available for us to make sense of the future in a structured way. Ethnographers and anthropologists know how to study the present in order to speculate on the future; design teams employ futurecasts and speculative design; futures research employs a wide range of methods that cut across disciplines. With the availability of big data, forecasting and predictive modelling is growing more and more sophisticated. Sometimes I wonder, does the maturity of our methods and frameworks make us feel too confident about...

A Fantastic Everyday Puzzle: Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’ Dark Fantastic Cycle

“Myth-making may be dangerous indeed for those of us who play in the dark… but let’s play anyway.” EBONY ELIZABETH THOMAS
a book review by VERONICA KIM HOTTON As we anticipate EPIC2021—yes, bring on the puns—I had the spectacular task of studying The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas. My goal was to find small ways to spark our EPIC community's curiosity ahead of her EPIC keynote. As a regular audiobook listener, I listened to the voice of Janina Edwards bring Ebony Thomas’ work from the page to my ears, and if you are looking to add an audiobook to your virtual shelf, it’s a fantastic audiobook; you should not hesitate. I also have the paper book and it is a wonder to hold. Because Ebony weaves in autoethnographic storytelling throughout her book, my personal experiences were what first drew me to this work. We both grew up in Michigan. Ebony was in Detroit and I was a white girl in one of the many suburbs spawned by White Flight. We are Generation X with “the holy trinity of our mid-1980s children’s films [being] The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, and—my favorite...

Representation and Expertise on the Conference Stage: Lauren Rhodes is Shifting Norms for Panels

We need to rethink who we put forward as experts. Who is not being represented? - Lauren Rhodes, Design Research Strategist, Crown Equipment Corp; Panels Chair, EPIC2021
Welcome to EPISODE FOUR in a series of conversations with some of the makers and speakers of EPIC2021—a global, virtual conference and community promoting ethnography for impact in business, organizations and communities. In this episode, Luc Aractingi talks with Lauren Rhodes, Design Research Strategist at Crown Equipment Corporation and Chair of the EPIC2021 Panels Program. Find out how Lauren is shifting norms about who gets staged as an "expert", and get her pro tips for networking and getting involved. TRANSCRIPT LUC: Hello and welcome to EPIC interviews, a series where we get to know the makers and the host of the conference EPIC2021. Today we are interviewing Lauren Rhodes. Hello, thanks for being here. LAUREN: Thank you for having me. LUC: I was wondering if you could describe your job to a stranger. LAUREN: If I could describe my job to a stranger. My actual title is Design Research Strategist at Crown Equipment Corporation, which is a manufacturing company based in New Bremen, Ohio. We make forklifts. The equipment...

Demonstrating the Impact of Ethnography: Chad Maxwell on ROI and New Kinds of Ethnographic Value

"Case studies are about impact and results that were driven by great ethnographic work." Chad Maxwell, Chief Strategy Officer, KSM & Co-chair, EPIC2021 Case Studies
Welcome to EPISODE TWO in a series of conversations with some of the makers and speakers of EPIC2021—a global, virtual conference and community promoting ethnography for impact in business, organizations and communities. In this episode, Luc Aractingi talks with Chad Maxwell, Chief Strategy Officer at Kelly Scott Madison and co-chair of the EPIC2021 Case Studies Committee. Find out how ethnographers demonstrate the impact of their work, and how ethnography can create new kinds of value in the future. TRANSCRIPT LUC: Hello and welcome to EPIC interviews, a series where we get to know the makers and the host of the conference EPIC. This year our theme is anticipation, and today we'll be interviewing Chad Maxwell, who's Chief Strategy Officer at KSM. Chad, thank you for coming. We're very excited to have you here today. Could you tell us more about your role at EPIC? CHAD: Sure. Thanks for having me. It is great to be here. My role at EPIC is I am one of the chairs for the case studies section of the conference. LUC: Could...

Perspectives on Post-COVID Business from a Quarantine Hotel: Jennifer Fuqua on the Challenge of Change

There are a lot of cultural and historical behaviors that are harder to change...but I believe we're getting to a better place. Jennifer Fuqua, Director of Experience Design North Asia, Ogilvy
Welcome to EPISODE THREE in a series of conversations with some of the makers and speakers of EPIC2021—a global, virtual conference and community promoting ethnography for impact in business, organizations and communities. In this episode, Luc Aractingi talks with Jennifer Fuqua, Director of Experience Design, North Asia, at Ogilvy. Jennifer is one of five panelists presenting the The Future of Business in a Post-COVID Landscape. We look forward to Fuqua's perspectives from Hong Kong, where she has been working with businesses and brands in Asia to help them grow and look into the future. TRANSCRIPT Luc: Hello and welcome to EPIC People, a series in which we'll be interviewing the makers and hosts of the upcoming conference, EPIC2021. This year our theme is Anticipation and we'll be interviewing today Jennifer Fuqua, who is an experienced designer at Oglivy. Jennifer thank you for coming. Jennifer: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Luc: Well, we're very excited to have you in today. To get us started, I was wondering if you...

Pepper’s Ghost to Mixed Reality: How Sarah Ellis Anticipates Futures at the Royal Shakespeare Company

"play with technology. Challenge that technology. Imagine it in different ways." Sarah Ellis, director of digital development, Royal Shakespeare Company
Welcome to EPISODE ONE in a series of conversations with some of the makers and speakers of EPIC2021—a global, virtual conference and community promoting ethnography for impact in business, organizations and communities. In this episode, Luc Aractingi talks with Sarah Ellis, Director of Digital Development at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Keynote Speaker at EPIC2021. Find out why artists are the consummate innovators and Shakespeare is on the cutting edge of mixed reality and emerging technologies! TRANSCRIPT LUC: Hello and welcome to EPIC interviews, a series where we get to know the makers and hosts of the conference EPIC 2021. Today we are interviewing Sarah Ellis, who is the Director of Digital Development at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Hello, thank you for coming. SARAH: Hello, nice to be here. LUC: I was wondering if you could tell us more about your role. SARAH: I work for the Royal Shakespeare Company and my job is the first job of its kind where I'm the Director of Digital Development. What that means is...

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...