sam ladner

Contributed Articles

Tutorial: Ethnographic Research Design

SAM LADNER Amazon Ethnography is closely associated with the core qualitative methods of interviewing and observation. But ethnographers in business often work with a broad range of other methods, from video and diary studies to surveys and sensors. This tutorial examines the relationship between research and design, producing data and producing things. It considers the research process as a design process and a wide range of methods across the research and design spectrum. Participants engaged in active exercises to examine creativity, complexity, compromise and choice in research design, and consider the role of stakeholder thinking. Finally, the tutorial encouraged researchers to conceptualize their work as a long-term endeavor beyond the boundaries of a discrete project, with tips for organizing data and files as well as creating quality criteria. Participants were asked to prepare for this workshop by exploring and perhaps journaling about past projects that did not provide clients with their desired outcomes. They considered...

Ethnography for Equity: Using the Ethnographic Lens to Improve Outcomes for Everyone

by FATIMAH RICHMOND (Google) & SAM LADNER Why did Donald Trump get elected? Because of the rage of the “working class”? Why did Brexit happen? Because “working class” Britons were angry at getting left behind? We find these explanations troubling because they whitewash events. We convened the Salon Ethnography and Equality at EPIC2017 to discuss how our community can avoid doing exactly this kind of whitewashing as we work with our clients and stakeholders. We used an ethnographic lens to understand the systems that structure inequalities in our societies and organizations. To continue the conversation about this critical topic beyond the event in Montréal, this blog post describes the Salon’s main talking points and some practical solutions (one involving an actual toilet; more on that in a moment). We explicitly told the 35 people gathered for our Salon that the discussion was to be safe. By that, we meant that there would be specific order for when a participant may speak, and that before sharing anything about...

Ethnographers, Bearers of Bad News

by SAM LADNER, Microsoft Ask any applied ethnographer what is the hardest thing about their work. Go ahead, just ask one. More than likely, she will exhale slowly, slump back in her chair, fix you with a steely stare and say, “I spend so little time on actual research.” Her gaze may drift away at this moment. She might look at her hands and say, “I’m not even sure if I actually do research at all.” She’s not even talking to you anymore, but to some earlier version of herself. “I’m not sure when it happened,” she might say, looking out the window now. “There’s just so much more to do besides research.” Applied ethnography is not for the faint of heart. It is a tireless job, Sisyphean in character. It challenges a researcher’s essential view of herself, and her role not just in her company, but in the world. Applied ethnographers are purveyors of what anthropologist Elizabeth Colson called “uncomfortable knowledge,” or the discovery of knowledge that contradicts, threatens, or otherwise challenges established...

Bodywork and Productivity in Workplace Ethnography

SAM LADNERMicrosoft Corporation Office workers still rely on their bodies to communicate with each other, despite many decades of technology use. This Pecha Kucha explores how and in what ways office work involves people’s bodies and this “bodywork” plays in productivity. I argue that technology is now able to emulate some effects of bodywork....

Ethnographic Temporality: Using Time-Based Data in Product Renewal

SAM LADNER Corporate ethnography is often targeted at renewing the life of a product. Getting customers to start using a product again – or start using it in the first place – entails a deep understanding of the rhythm of everyday life. When do customers begin to use this product? When do they stop? What else is going on during this time? It is tempting to rely on the automatically collected time-data from “big data” analytics to answer this question. But ethnography offers a unique cultural lens to understanding the temporal aspects of the product lifecycle. In this paper, I provide examples of technological products that demonstrate how ethnographic insight offers deeper insight about the temporal aspects of products. I introduce the concept of the “timescape” and its three dimensions of time, and explain where some products are temporally successful and others temporally fail. I explain in the final portion of this paper, I outline ways in which digital time-data should complement traditional ethnography....

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