Flexibility and the Curatorial Eye: Why and How Well-Documented Fieldwork Sustains Value Over Time

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This paper discusses two distinguishing features of ethnographic work, program flexibility and data flexibility. These forms of flexibility deliver business benefits at two different timeframes. Within the timeframe of a given project, ethnographic practice is necessarily reflective and reflexive; ethnographic training insists researchers be flexible. This means projects are responsive to emerging results, and can be reframed in situ without significant additional investment. After the project has completed, carefully managed, stored and curated ethnographic materials can answer new questions, perhaps posed years after the project has ended. Thus, ethnographic work can generate business impact by sustaining value over time. Two cases illustrate the value-generating qualities of ethnographic work: one recently conducted investigation of drinking water in India and one conducted ten years ago looking at changes in collaborative practices as a result of the adoption of mobile technologies. Discussion of these cases illustrates the importance of flexibility and the curatorial eye for generating business value from ethnography.

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