Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Ethnography, Independent Consulting, and the Gig Life


Approx 85 minutes


Calling all independent consultants and freelance ethnographers! Join seasoned and successful freelancers Shelley and Hal for a presentation and discussion about strategies, opportunities, and challenges of gig work. They will share their own stories of taking the leap from employee to freelancer and offer tips on getting started, finding work, making an impact, and maintaining a presence. They’ll address the realities and challenges that independents face so you’ll leave on stronger footing for taking your next step—whether you’re starting or growing your independent practice. They’ll also explore some of the challenges freelancers face in maintaining a career path, managing commitments, and staying connected.


Shelley Sather is a seasoned independent Ethnographer and Design Researcher, with deep expertise in designing studies for emerging products and technologies. She began her research career in commodities software design, just as the analog (open-outcry) markets in Chicago were being replaced with digital solutions from outside the US. There, she developed a keen understanding of design amidst major market disruption and how culture and environment quietly shape our beliefs and actions—then how to translate that understanding into a business strategy. These niche beginnings led her to various posts across small, market-making entrepreneurial ventures and well-regarded innovation and design consultancies in Chicago and New York, where she’s traveled the world to develop richly human, real-world perspectives through context-driven, qualitative, methods…all in the name of smart, meaningful growth. Shelley has led large-scale, complex research engagements for Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, SMART Technologies, ABInBev, ALDO and SeaRay, as well as right-sized research endeavors for small and mid-sized incumbents. What unites this roster is an earnest desire to meet people where they truly are. She has guest lectured on ethnographic research at Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute, and the University of Chicago, and served on design review panels at IIT’s Institute of Design and Parson’s Strategic Design Management Program. Her favorite question right now is, “What do you think the future of [blank] should be?”

Hal Phillips is a partner at Bad Babysitters, a research and consulting boutique specializing in video-based ethnography. With his partner Meg Kinney, he helps clients pair hard data with thick description to create brand value and growth. Hal is a storyteller at heart who passionately believes in multimedia as a means to foster human connection, reaction, and participation in the world around us. He studied philosophy and started his career at CNN International putting together news packages for international audiences. During the first dotcom boom he moved to San Francisco where he worked for CNX Media—a startup that provided news-style packages with robust, customized web components on the topics of health, travel, and consumer finance for local television affiliates. From there, he ran the public access TV studio in Berkeley, CA that facilitated the efforts of local citizens to create and broadcast stories, content, and programming that mattered to them, in their own voices.

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