Harvard Business School
PechaKucha Presentation—Customer ethnography and user research continues to move higher up the priority list of Fortune 500 corporations. As a design researcher at a global consultancy, my clients often consist of new or aspiring consumer research groups eager to scale quickly. Excited at first, these groups or individuals are ready to dive in but get discouraged by the size and price tag of “big leap user research projects” then end up never pursuing ethnography at all. Watching this pattern unfold client after client, it started to remind of making sourdough. Because novice bakers start out trying to make sourdough from scratch, expecting heaps of picturesque loaf of bread right off the bat. But that's not how sourdough is made. The first step is finding a “starter”. Sourdough starters are small pieces of fermented dough that one can really only get from an experienced baker. You need to integrate it into your ingredients and to make the sourdough rise, scale, and bubble....
Amidst the advances of AI and automation, this paper provides a framework for ethnographic methods and insights to enhance human agency at work. Through analyzing data collected from ethnographic immersions in three different consulting firms (a professional services firm, a management consultancy, and a boutique insights agency), human-agent decisions are isolated in case studies and the pathways of unlocking the potential of automation to enhance the agency of individuals rather than constraining it are highlighted. Through drawing a distinction between thinking agency and executional agency present in the work of a consultant, this paper argues that automations that preserve thinking agency while maximizing productivity and accuracy are the solutions that should be adopted. Through vetting workflows sourced from ethnographic immersions with the established criteria, a framework for consultancies – and more broadly businesses – to better...
HEINRICH SCHWARZ, MADS HOLME and GITTE ENGELUND
In the current economic uncertainty ethnographic consultants are asked to intensify their client focus and to demonstrate and improve the relevancy and impact of their work. This paper reports on a case of close collaboration between client and consultant during an ethnographic consulting project. It discusses three crucial challenges: the challenge of aligning expectations and clarifying roles, the challenge of cultural differences and confusion over ethnographic methods, and the challenge of finding the right rhythm between close interaction and useful separation. Written from both the consultant and the client perspective we describe how similar situations were experienced differently by both parties, analyse what underlies some of these tensions, and suggest some lessons for ethnographers and clients alike for future close encounters. The paper suggests that the central challenge lies in finding the right balance between client-emic and client-etic positions and in inviting clients...