Empowering Communities: Future-Making through Citizen Ethnography

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This paper proposes a way to harness the power and benefits of community-led future change through the process of “citizen ethnography”. Just as “citizen science” has become a potent method for non-scientists to collect and contribute to scientific knowledge and outcomes, citizen ethnography is where non-ethnographers are trained in the tools and techniques of ethnography to research social phenomena to understand, recommend and lead their own change initiatives.

Citizen ethnography essentially flips the model of a single or small team of ethnographers and consultants working with a community, to one where groups of community members research their own challenges in order to identify their own needs, preferred futures and mechanisms for change. Importantly, this approach requires a significant ‘stepping away’ of the ethnographer as the research expert and move towards a role of skill-builder, coach and facilitator. This democratisation of ethnography helps to equip and empower communities with useful skills, while also reconnecting ethnography to the fundamentals of its well-established method and foundation in the ethics of representation. We provide an example of how citizen ethnography is being used to deal with youth suicide in Australia, highlighting how through engaging community members in the process and skills of ethnography they can unpack their own questions of belonging and identity, participate with each other in the solutions to their current challenges and approach their future as engaged and empowered citizens. Article citation: 2021 EPIC Proceedings pp 282–302, ISSN 1559-8918, https://www.epicpeople.org/epic

Keywords: citizen, representation, community, reflexivity, collaboration, democratisation, practice, change

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