How a Government Organisation Evolved to Embrace Ethnographic Methods for Service (and Team) Resilience: The Case of the Canadian Digital Service

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Government websites and online services are often built with limited input from the people they serve. This approach limits their ability to respond to ever changing needs and contexts. This case study describes a government digital team built from the ground up to embrace ethnographic methods to make government services more resilient.

The case study begins by tracing the organisation’s origins and relationship to other research-driven parts of its government. Then it shows how the organisation’s structure evolved as more projects included ethnography. It describes various approaches to locating skilled researchers within bureaucratic confines, as well as what responsibilities researchers took on as the organisation grew. It then summarises researchers’ experiences with matrixed, functional and hybrid organisation schemes.

The case study concludes explaining how embracing ethnographic approaches (and values) increased not only online service, but also organisational resilience. Teams who embraced ethnography had deeper and more thoughtful responses to the pandemic, and inclusivity challenges in the organisation. Lessons learned for other organisations attempting to scale an ethnographic research practice, and seize its benefits for resilience.

Article citation: 2022 EPIC Proceedings pp 141–151, ISSN 1559-8918,

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