Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Doing Ethnography in Civic Spaces



Ethnography has always illuminated the interconnections between society and industry, private and public, economic and cultural, business and civic. But recent events—COVID-19, police violence, political disinformation—have reminded us that civic institutions are fragile, and that we all have a critical role in civic spaces, whether we work for private corporations, nonprofits, or governments.

EPIC people have expressed renewed interest and urgency in addressing our roles and responsibilities in civic space. As a community of practitioners who span all sectors, industries, and disciplines, we are in a unique position to do so. To initiate discussion, debate, and action, this session will address core questions such as:

How should we define, or redefine, civic space from an ethnographic perspective? What are the biggest challenges and opportunities in civic space right now? How can ethnographers, in the many roles and organizations we inhabit, help create lasting, positive change?

Join us for a provocative and inspiring community discussion!


Matt Bernius is a principal design researcher working to develop policies and tools to help people automatically clear their criminal records as part of Code for America’s Clear My Record project. Prior to joining CfA, Matt worked at Measures for Justice, a non-profit working to bring data transparency to the US Criminal Justice System at the county level. Matt began his career at, spent time as a visiting professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and worked at experience design agency Effective Inc. Across his career, Matt has helped a wide range of clients, including Autodesk, Boeing, Google, Honeywell, Mozilla, and PricewaterhouseCoopers better understand their customers and employees through a wide range of research projects. Matt holds a Master’s degree in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor’s degree from RIT, and was a PhD student in Cultural Anthropology at Cornell University.

Nichole Carelock is an anthropologist with 10+ years experience building technical solutions that not only work for people, but with people. She currently works to ensure the Presidential Transition Teams are equipped with the right Tech Policy, People and Practices to succeed. Her expertise spans from service design for systems with millions of users, to intimate cottage industry ethnographies. She is a member of the EPIC Board and belongs to and serves many communities including AfroTech, User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA), and the American Anthropological Association (AAA). In addition, Nichole is passionate about digital services for vulnerable populations and prides herself on being a “slow thinker” in her world of “failing fast” “rapid iteration” and “disruption.” Through slow thinking Nichole works to ensure that innovation, strategies, processes and products are anchored in what matters to people in their everyday lives today and over time.

Kate Hohman is the Director of Research and Future Planning for the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer. She leads research, planning, and reporting efforts related to emerging technologies, and their role in City government and across society. Kate has served in City government for over a decade in varied tech planning and implementation roles, with a particular focus on human- and community interaction with tech and tech projects, equity, and inclusion. Outside of government, she has worked in a range of research and teaching roles in the private and non-profit sectors. Kate holds a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from Columbia University, specializing in the experience and negotiation of social class in the contemporary United States, and a BA in music from Barnard College.

Abbas Jaffer is a UX Researcher on the Central Integrity team at Facebook, where he focuses on politics, social issues, and global crisis response. He holds graduate degrees in social anthropology and theological studies from Harvard. In his career, Abbas has worked with large corporations, startups, universities, and NGOs in sectors including consumer tech, media, mobile telecom, financial services, and education. He holds a PhD in anthropology from Harvard.

Victor Udoewa is Service Design Lead & Customer Experience Strategist at NASA. He is a dual citizen of the US and Nigeria who has worked in every continent except Antarctica, across sectors and industries. Having started his career in the design and development of computational tools for scientific applications, Victor shifted his focus to the social impact space and Information and Communications Technologies for Development, both community and international development. He is a practitioner and advocate of participatory design, a method he’s used in service and system design for governments, multilateral institutions, nonprofits, for-profits, and communities, to facilitate skill-building and improved employment for community members. Bitten by the “civic-tech bug” he is now focused on creating or improving government products and services for citizens, immigrants, and refugees. Recently he started an organization called Justice by Design as part of his work to decolonize design.

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