advocacy & impact

Tracing the Arc of Ethnographic Impact: Success and (In)visibility of Our Work and Identities

DONNA K. FLYNN and TRACEY LOVEJOY This paper explores ways in which ethnographic impact in a large technology corporation is perceived, re-defined, and recognized – by both practitioners themselves and corporate stakeholders. The authors trace a history of ethnographic successes and stumbles, and ways they have confronted a strong usability paradigm that has shaped organizational assumptions of impact and value for product research. They then identify ways in which contextual analysis of their own practice in the corporation led to the successful creation of a strategic engagement model for ethnography, resulting in its growing influence. Through critical analysis of the conditions of influence in their own organization, the authors’ propose some broader frameworks for ethnographic impact and raise some questions for the EPIC community regarding business value, ethnographic identity, and organizational authority....

Evolving Ethnographic Practitioners and Their Impact on Ethnographic Praxis

ALEXANDRA MACK and SUSAN SQUIRES As we reflect on the evolving nature of our practice, it is timely to consider how these individual evolutions impact the broader field of ethnographic praxis in industry. First, we look at the career paths of senior members of the EPIC community to chart key transitions in their individual careers. We observe that their career paths have moved them away from fieldwork, and into management where they shape projects, mentor staff and participate in decision-making. Thus, a key aspect of evolution for the EPIC community lies in how senior members are influencing what industry expects from ethnographic praxis. In a second intersecting theme we review how these individual career evolutions collectively influence the EPIC Community of Practice. We discuss how our field continues to evolve both on an individual level and within the Community of Practice to which we all belong....

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Ethnography and Selective Visibility in the Technology Sector

LAURA GRANKA, PATRICK LARVIE and JENS RIEGELSBERGER As ethnographers practicing within an engineering driven industry, we often struggle with visibility and its effects. Exposing the methodological and technical underpinnings of ethnographic practice can bring us closer to the teams we work with, but it can also draw attention to the ways that engineering and anthropology clash. In this brief paper we describe the rationale for deliberate and highly selective visibility in our engineering-driven workplace. We will draw on our experience as anthropologists “embedded” in teams of engineers to discuss our own claims to authority and examine how legitimacy is conferred upon ideas and actions in a technology-driven environment....

What European Businesses Expect from Us

FILIP LAU This paper presents considerations of strategies for communicating the value of ‘business anthropology’ and ‘insights’ to sceptical business audiences, based on a number of studies with a total of 47 interviews with executives in 27 large companies in mainly Europe, but also the US. The paper will present four major insights deriving from the research and suggest how ‘insights’, ‘business anthropology’ and ethnography can potentially be applied to new areas within business in dire economic times, including, but also going beyond, the traditional areas of application, i.e. ‘innovation’ and ‘marketing’. I argue that the Practice can be expanded by moving beyond the identification of potential areas for innovation (the so-called unmet needs of users/customers/consumers/citizens), for instance to the identification of areas suitable for simplification: where users are currently having ‘over-met needs’, i.e. areas the user perceive as irrelevant and of little value. The paper will also explore the role...

“Let’s Bring It Up to B Flat”: What Style Offers Applied Ethnographic Work

RICK E. ROBINSON Ethnographic and design work share, deeply, the challenge of conveying the truth of the work we do to interlocutors from very different backgrounds. Writing is hard work even with the shared culture that an academic discipline or a single firm can draw upon. How, then, to write well for broad and varied audiences? By writing like novelists. Literary critic James Wood encapsulates the central tradition of the novel as: “Truthfulness to the way things are […] Life on the page, life brought to different life by the highest artistry.” (2008:247) It is hard to conceive of a better description of what most of us would like to achieve. “Truthfulness to the way things are” gets nicely to all of the important moments of what we do—observation, description, interpretation, inscription. In this paper, I try to move ‘style’ up the ladder of importance in how we think, write, and talk about the work we do....

Taking the Driver’s Seat: Sustaining Critical Enquiry While Becoming a Legitimate Corporate Decision-Maker

ROGERIO DE PAULA, SUZANNE L. THOMAS and XUEMING LANG Staying relevant (to the business) is at the heart of career-advancement and (increasingly) job-security, particularly, in a business unit. It embodies a number of different meanings to the different players in corporate—from supporting product definition to creating strategic plans to making the appropriate business decisions. Rather surprisingly, though, we find EPIC talking about it with a certain discomfort, particularly when it comes to affect our identities as social researchers. On the other hand, we, in the industry, have little choice but to “play the game” and find ways whereby we can best utilize our knowledge, experiences, skills, our unique perspective to endow us an edge—creating interesting possibilities to stay relevant. This paper investigates our own trajectories in the past few years in a product group at Intel where we suddenly found ourselves increasingly more involved with decision-making, taking actions that would ultimately affect the course of the...