Advancing the Value of Ethnography

“Do Not Fear Mistakes—there Are None”: Ethnography as Improvisation


Cite this article:

2021 EPIC Proceedings p 346, ISSN 1559-8918,

PechaKucha Presentation:

I use the iconic album, Kind of Blue, to re-frame a conversation around ethnography and innovation. Moving fast and breaking stuff is not how ethnography brings value to the business. Rather, we use our craft to move nimbly through the complex terrain of “users” in much the same way as jazz musicians improvise. We are grounded in our craft through practice, but technical mastery is not enough. Bounded by structures and constraints, we move nimbly because knowing the rules allows us to creatively push against boundaries. And ethnography never exists in a vacuum, even if we’re the only anthropologist in the room. Instead, we riff off those who came before us, in community with those who innovate alongside us. The core value of ethnography is to improvise—to use our mastery of our craft to build on what came before, to make sense of it, and anticipate what comes next.

Katherine Metzo is an ethnographer and methods geek who has worked in public policy, non-profit, market research and user/customer experience. She is driven by understanding how culture and events shape our material and experiential worlds and finding new ways to uncover the next unknown insight that is instantly familiar.