Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Studying In and Studying Out


An EPIC 2014 Workshop: Studying In and Studying Out: Linking Organizational and Consumer Ethnography

Elizabeth Briody and Ken Erickson at their EPIC2014 workshop

The big idea here is this. Most anthropologists are working either in the organizational space or in the consumer space and no one is looking at the interface between these two cultural domains.

Sharing what we have learned after years of practice in organizations and for consumer product and services companies, Erickson and Briody engaged workshop participants in sharing tips for bringing an understanding of organizations into so-called consumer research, and vice-versa.

We told some stories, some tales of the field that pointed to difficulties within organizations that inhibited their ability to respond to consumer needs or to bridge the internal silos that limit the effectiveness of organizations in doing their work.

The fun part was finding how much the participants shared. We found a range of tips and tricks for learning about the organization–internal clients if you work “inside” or the client that has hired you if you work as a hired gun. We also explored some useful tricks on the consumer side.

Here are a couple highlights.

* Awareness of the internal political landscape is critical. Ethnographers can use their ethnographic skills to discover people in organizations who bridge or transcend silos, they can find out who has the “soft power” in the organizations (not revealed by org charts).

* Ethnography can be Action Research (we should have mentioned Sol Tax who coined the term years ago with the Fox Project(s) at Chicago): you can create new organizational understandings just by engaging people in new kinds of conversations or interviews for example.

* The staging or scoping of projects are opportunities to suggest to clients that the anthropologist will also need to understand the organization, so planning for a round of informal meetings and interviews, or allowing time for informal observations within the organization can be a standard part of kicking off a project.

The workshop included a workshop blog with a list of print, video, and Internet resources in both organizational culture and consumer anthropology, accessible to workshop participants. Participants were invited to post their own materials, too.

breakout group