Elizabeth Churchill

Contributed Articles

The Ethnographic Lens: Perspectives and Opportunities for New Data Dialects

by ELIZABETH CHURCHILL, Director of User Experience, Google Concern with “big data” and ”data at scale” has pervaded many conversations in the past few years. Conversations orient around what “big data” really means, around the relationship of “small data” to “big data”, and around the relationship between “local” data and “global”, aggregate data. In the EPIC context, conversations veer towards anxiety regarding the relationship of ethnographic practice to quantitative data and whether the future of ethnography as an area of interest is in jeopardy. Will all questions regarding people, “users”, and markets be answered by brute force, number crunching? The answer is absolutely NO. It’s important to note that the ethnography community has a long-standing relationship with analysis of, and interpretation through, quantitative data at all scales and granularities. “Big” data and “data at scale” are not new. Stealing a snippet of Samuelle Carlson and Ben Anderson’s paper title from 2007,...

Bridging Past and Future: Keynote Address

ELIZABETH CHURCHILL Google Elizabeth Churchill, Director of User Experience at Google, is an applied social scientist working in human computer interaction, computer mediated communication, mobile/ubiquitous computing and social media. Prior to joining Google, Elizabeth was Director of Human Computer Interaction at eBay Research Labs, and she has held positions in top research organizations, including Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo! Research; Senior Research Scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC); and Senior Research Scientist at FX Palo Laboratory. Trained in psychology, throughout her career Elizabeth has focused on understanding people’s social and collaborative interactions in their everyday digital and physical contexts. She has studied, designed and collaborated on creating online collaboration tools, applications and services for mobile and personal devices, and media installations in public spaces for distributed collaboration and communication. She has authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications,...

Ethnography and Process Change in Organizations: Methodological Challenges in a Cross-cultural, Bilingual, Geographically Distributed Corporate Project

ELIZABETH CHURCHILL and JACK WHALEN We detail an ongoing, consultancy partnership, where ethnographic field methods are being used to elucidate the work practices of software engineers in a large organization. We focus on intellectual and logistical challenges that we face as a team – non-collocation; widely varying experience of ethnographic methods, local language and culture; and conflicting responsibilities and lines of accountability. We consider the social spheres in which our team members operate and the sociality of our team as a whole. As ethnographic teams are increasingly considered de rigueur within corporations for cultural translation in the face of globalization, the issues we face are likely to become more commonplace....

Lead Type, Dead Type: New Patterns of Local News Production and Consumption

ELIZABETH CHURCHILL and JEFF UBOIS Newspapers are in trouble. Steep declines in circulation and advertising revenue have forced outright closures, reductions in force, cessation of print in favor of web only editions and frantic searches for additional sources of revenue and audience. In this paper, we report results from an interview study focused on everyday news consumption practices. Our study indicates there are many design opportunities for local news creation and distribution at interface/interaction, infrastructure and strategy levels....

(In)visible partners: People, Algorithms, and Business Models in Online Dating

ELIZABETH CHURCHILL and ELIZABETH S. GOODMAN A confluence of personal, technical and business factors renders priorities, practices, and desires visible – and invisible – when people use online dating sites to look for partners. Based on a review of websites, interviews with dating site designer/developers, and interviews with would-be daters about their online experiences and their first dates, we offer some insights into the entanglement between daters, site implementers, and business models that is part and parcel of getting ‘matched’ via the Internet. We also examine the role of the website interface and match algorithms in the expression of the “real me” and the search for “the one” – and then how processes of self-presentation and partner imagination play into the planning, expectation-setting and experience of the first date. Finally, we reflect on issues raised for design and for strategic technology development. This study of online-offline encounters is an example of using detailed qualitative analyses...

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

ELIZABETH CHURCHILL and AME ELLIOTT 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...

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