Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Tutorial: From Research to Action – Leading Teams Through Synthesis


Learn strategies and abductive methods for key challenges in the synthesis stage of research and design projects.


This video has been edited to protect the privacy of participants in the live tutorial.

After the richness of fieldwork, the research and design team must figure out, “What does this mean?” and “What should we do?” In this tutorial, you’ll gain a richer understanding of the synthesis and learn strategies for two key challenges: emotional dynamics—how we navigate interpersonal relationships to come to alignment amid the discomfort of newness and transformation—and convergence—how to prioritize when faced with tons of data and ideas. Participants will learn how to externalize the hidden criteria that are the key to client/stakeholder commitment and engagement.

Synthesis presents a tough set of issues: we want to accurately represent all of our participants, yet we must make hard decisions around whose stories and learnings to prioritize. New data and points of view, sometimes conflicting, are introduced by other stakeholders in the project. And we must move from being descriptive to being directional.

Compounding these challenges is the fact that, despite its importance to the success of a project, the synthesis phase lacks its own unique methodologies. At best, we borrow methods from analysis and design, and at worst, we spend laborious hours talking and wordsmithing. The latter gives synthesis its reputation as an emotionally painful process, compounding the reluctance to engage with or create new tactics.

This tutorial offers concrete concepts and methods for synthesis rooted in abductive reasoning, the logic of creating new hypotheses, insights, and ideas. Through a purposeful cultivation of abductive methods, participants will be better equipped to grapple with newness, novelty, and transformation. Participants will leave the tutorial with a better understanding of the synthesis phase and new methods to meet their goals.


Marta Cuciurean-Zapan is a design researcher and Design Director at IDEO’s Chicago studio. At IDEO, she is focused on building innovative research approaches, futures perspectives, and the intersection of content and culture in teamwork. Marta also teaches human-centered research and design at DePaul University. She has a Master’s in Cultural Anthropology from Temple University and a Bachelor’s in Anthropology and Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University. This tutorial was originally co-created and facilitated with Ksenia Pachikov, Principal at Field Studio.


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