Ethnographic Tools: From Insight to Intervention

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SDU Design, Department of Entrepreneurship and Relationship Management, University of Southern Denmark

As a social researcher rooted in the traditions of participatory innovation, I set out to take a design anthropological approach to study the early unfocused phases of organisational innovation processes, and explore ways of both challenging and supporting these. With an interest in understanding how the tangibility of design coupled with the analytical nature of anthropology can provoke richer insights concerning organisational practices, my research team and I designed an artefact, called ‘the tangible brief’, aiming to elicit real stories about the challenges practitioners experience in dealing with innovation. The artefact resembles the content of a design brief and aims to bring together practitioners around the task of creating briefs prior to evaluating the potential of new ideas.The paper sets out to address the challenge of ethnographic researchers navigating a complex landscape of organisational innovation practices, and attempts to reframe the roles we can take in the field. Along those lines, the research contributes to a nuanced perspective on how tangible artefacts can become part of organisational figurations, and thus explicate the challenges that the social and political structures in the organisation are causing. Findings show that design anthropological practices can provoke actionable insights revealing deeper layers of organisational structures and processes, thus expanding on existing theoretical perspectives mainly highlighting how these artefacts can serve as conversation tools to encourage consensus and collaboration.

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