Melissa Cefkin

Contributed Articles

Doing Design Research in a Cognitive World

EPIC2017 Platinum Panel Moderated by: CHRIS HAMMOND (IBM) Panelists: MARK BURRELL (IBM), MELISSA CEFKIN (Nissan Research Center), CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG (ReD Associates) & DAWN NAFUS (Intel) Overview Increasingly, experiences are being created that incorporate augmented intelligence, promising to make us smarter, more efficient, and more effective. Doctors can recommend more comprehensive personalized treatment plans, teachers can provide lesson plans tailored to individual students, and farmers can vary crop irrigation and fertilization cycles in response to predicted weather patterns. Human capabilities (some might say intelligence) are being augmented, aided by machine learning algorithms that interpret and find meaning in vast quantities of both structured and unstructured data. This panel addresses challenges of doing design research in a cognitive world where predictive analytics, conversational interfaces, and augmented intelligence are core aspects of the technology solutions being designed. What skills...

Autonomous Individuals in Autonomous Vehicles: The Multiple Autonomies of Self-Driving Cars

ERIK STAYTON Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley & Massachusetts Institute of Technology MELISSA CEFKIN Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley JINGYI ZHANG Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley We take the polysemy at the heart of autonomy as our focus, and explore how changing notions of autonomy are experienced and expressed by users of self-driving cars. Drawing from work-practice studies and sociomaterial approaches to understanding technologies, we discuss how driving as a task is destabilized and reconfigured by the introduction of increasingly automated systems for vehicle control. We report on the findings of a hybrid ethnographic experiment performed at Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley, in which we video recorded interactions of 14 participants inside a simulated autonomous vehicle, and conducted semi-structured post-interviews. We look at the responses of our participants in light of three different themes of autonomy, which emerged through the analysis of the...

Keynote Address: Pedestrian Perspectives

MELISSA CEFKIN Nissan Research An anthropologist with a long career at the intersection of social research and business and technology, Melissa Cefkin began working on autonomous vehicles in 2015, fulfilling a life-long love of transportation matters. (Her preferred activity in a new place? Public bus rides.) She works at Nissan Research, where she is a Principal Scientist and Senior Manager. Her work has focused on people’s lives and experiences with automated technology of all kinds, especially those related to mobility, collaboration, work, and lives in organizations. A long-time observer and participant in the growth of anthropological research in and with business, Melissa is the author of numerous publications including the edited volume Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter. She has served as president and conference co-chair for EPIC and recently on the US National Academies of Science committee on Information Technology, Automation and the Workforce. A frequent public and academic speaker, the work she...

Speculating about Autonomous Futures: Is This Ethnographic?

by MELISSA CEFKIN & ERIK STAYTON, Nissan Research Center As researchers working on automated vehicles, we are grappling with fundamental questions about how to do research and design for the future. Or, to be more precise, how can we tap into and participate in futures that are in the process of being made, that may both reproduce and rearrange experiences of today? One of the questions we must ask is, what is autonomy to begin with? In the era of the rise of increasingly self-acting machines, what exactly will these machines be autonomous from? How are people grappling with shifting perceptions and experiences of autonomy? Our research has explored how people confront ideas about what the future may hold and, more profoundly, how reconfigurations of socio-technical systems today confront them in their own notions of autonomy. Our paper about one of our research projects on this topic was accepted for EPIC2017, but not without some interesting debate. Anonymous peer reviewers raised a question about whether the work we...

Developing Socially Acceptable Autonomous Vehicles

ERIK VINKHUYZEN Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley MELISSA CEFKIN Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley Case Study—Recognizing that the movement of cars on the road involves inherently social action, Nissan hired a team of social scientists to lead research for the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs) that engage with pedestrians, bicyclists, and other cars in a socially acceptable manner. We are expected to provide results that can be implemented into algorithms, resulting in a challenge to our social science perspective: How do we translate what are observably social practices into implementable algorithms when road use practices are so often contingent on the particulars of a situation, and these situations defy easy categorization and generalization? This case study explores how our cross-disciplinary engagements have proceeded. A particular challenge for our efforts is the limitations of the technology in making observational distinctions that socially acceptable driving necessitates. We also illustrate...

A Perfect Storm? Reimagining Work in the Era of the End of the Job

MELISSA CEFKIN, OBINNA ANYA and ROBERT MOORE Trends of independent workers, an economy of increasingly automated processes and an ethos of the peer-to-peer “sharing economy” are all coming together to transform work and employment as we know them. Emerging forms of “open” and “crowd” work are particularly keen sites for investigating how the structures and experiences of work, employment and organizations are changing. Drawing on research and design of work in organizational contexts, this paper explores how experiences with open and crowd work systems serve as sites of workplace cultural re-imagining. A marketplace, a crowdwork system and a crowdfunding experiment, all implemented within IBM, are examined as instances of new workplace configurations....

Cultural Transitions – WWMD? Ethical Impulses and the Project of Ethnography in Industry

MELISSA CEFKIN We are at an early moment in the formation of an ethnographic project in and of the corporate world. I suggest that the work of ethnography in industry would benefit from being conceptualized as project in its own right. This paper seeks guidance inspired by earlier practitioners and scholars of ethnography and design as to how to think about the potential of this project and attempts to tease out some of the ethical impulses that underlie this project. This consideration is particularly timely in light of a current interest of companies in the motivations, practices and behavior of the people through which they achieve their goals. This interest is especially relevant in the context of services–an area of particular growth and attention–in that with services what is being sold or exchanged is the performance of the people, often acting with or through other resources. In light of the fact that ethnographers in industry are actors in services systems and are both subject to and influencers of the dynamics of the service...

The EPIC 2012 Conversation

MELISSA CEFKIN, MARIA BEZAITIS, ALEXANDRA MACK, KEN ANDERSON and ED LIEBOW When we offer something to another person, community, or organization, we create the conditions for some sort of value to be created. This proposition about value creation remains at the heart of all ethnographic work in industry, and it has framed EPIC’s exploration of Renewal, the theme set for this year’s conference in Savannah. What does it mean to do something that is valued? How is that value organized and shaped in everyday life, in the workplace, in ethnographic practice itself, from methodologies to questions of ethics? As a broad and diverse community of practitioners, is there such a thing as “our” value? Should “we” expect ever to standardize it in those terms? These were just some of the provocative questions raised by the content shared at EPIC 2012. Indeed, both the opening and closing keynotes demonstrated this complicated dance of renewal and value creation in very personal and specific ways. Architect Emily Pilloton opened this year’s...

Practice at the Crossroads: When Practice Meets Theory, A Rumination

MELISSA CEFKIN Consumer practices, work practices, not to mention management, design and research practices. The notion of “practice” remains core to much of what ethnographers in industry examine, expose and aim to inform. This paper questions: while we study practice(s), while we may frame our research and analysis with sensitivity towards rendering visible the richness or particularity of peoples’ practice, what have we really learned about practice? In part aimed at considering whether and how the work performed by ethnographers in industry advances or critiques theories of practice as explored by Bourdieu and others, the paper aims to reconcile the fact that we are “there” at the behest of our business counterparts to have an impact and affect change. So the question shifts from not only how we use and understand concepts of practice to how it frames the expectations of our business partners and stakeholders. What I have found is that there is both productive overlap and significant slippage between our (theoretically...

Numbers May Speak Louder than Words, but Is Anyone Listening? The Rhythmscape and Sales Pipeline Management

MELISSA CEFKIN In this paper I explore the often fleeting, seemingly constrained acts of expression performed through participation in everyday, routinized actions and practices. The vehicle I use for this exploration is the tools, processes and practices sales professionals use to manage the list of possible sales opportunities, or sales pipeline. I give particular attention to the meetings in which sales professionals and their managers discuss the pipeline. The element of talk, with its potential for unruliness, plays a central role in this otherwise hyper-rationalized activity focused around numbers, accounting and calculability. I suggest that to understand such signification processes and the forms of meaning that emerge through them we must look beyond the content of enunciated statements to consider the forms they take over time. I propose that participation in the sales pipeline process, particularly the meetings, forms a part of sales-people’s rhythmscape of work. By situating sites of expression in the notion of a rhythmscape,...

The EPIC 2011 Conversation

TRACEY LOVEJOY, MELISSA CEFKIN, KEN ANDERSON and ED LIEBOW EPIC seems to be a group of people who share a way of thinking. And I wanted to be a part of that....

The EPIC 2013 Conversation

MELISSA CEFKIN, MARIA BEZAITIS, ALEXANDRA MACK and KEN ANDERSON Oracles, fear, wonderment and magic graced the Faraday Theater of the Royal Institution of Great Britain once again. They appeared, appropriately, intertwined with the story of the advancement of science, and of technologies of knowledge. At the 9th annual Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, the very fundamentals of humanity, from senses to mediation, were explored and questioned. What an honor to be hosted at this esteemed organization to engage in the exploration of ethnographic praxis in industry!Experimenting with a theme-less program, the conference exposed the breadth and range of current ethnographic practice. In this year’s conversation we note just some of the threads and themes we observed to play out. But before that, we want to offer a reflection on the very existence of EPIC and its mission at the cusp of its 10th birthday. The ethnographic marketplace matures with new challenges ahead A couple of years ago we realized the Board faced a rather...

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