by MARTIN GRONEMANN, CENGIZ CEMALOGLU & LARA CASCIOLA, ReD Associates
Samantha – One of Us, and All of Us
On a rainy spring afternoon, Samantha was absentmindedly reading the news as a procrastination tool between her two zoom calls, and finding the headlines even bleaker than usual. Unemployment numbers around the world had just hit historic highs, the mortality rate of COVID was unclear, her LinkedIn was flooded with people who had just been laid off, and economists were sounding the alarm bell. Some heralded COVID as the moment to rethink everything, others evangelized the myriad benefits of remote work. Per usual, in the background, the climate continued its collapse. Samantha had no dinner parties, no weekend getaways, no weddings. Feeling destabilized and confused, she found herself questioning everything – her job, her relationships, her furniture, and even her purpose in life.
Samantha’s story was and still is familiar to many, and accessing embodied experiences like hers lay at the core of our decision at ReD...
Case Study—This case study will present how a multicultural and multidisciplinary team from EPAM Continuum, the global innovation design firm, gathered, analyzed, and presented back different forms of “evidence” to satisfy the complex set of client and customer needs for a Jordanian microfinance bank with 30 branches and 65,000 clients. The team navigated cultural and linguistic barriers as they sought to provide stakeholders and their customers the evidence they needed to confidently design a new “mobile payment service” for their microloan customers. Over the course of the engagement, the firm's team strove not only to research, design, and prototype a new service to hand off to a local development team, but also to (1) use a combination of deliverables and in-field accompaniment to train microfinance bank staff in their process; (2) present evidence demonstrating the deep customer understanding that can result from pairing ethnographic research and human-centered design; and (3) create evidence...
International Finance Corporation
Case Study—Trust motivates people’s uptake and use of digital financial services (DFS). Understanding the socio-cultural determinants of DFS trust are needed to scale financial access and drive financial inclusion. These are core components of international development strategies, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Universal Financial Access (UFA2020). The IFC-Mastercard Foundation Partnership for Financial Inclusion (the Partnership) conducted ethnographic research to understand factors that impact people’s attitudes and perceptions of DFS. Nine months of field work each in Cameroon, DRC, Senegal and Zambia were conducted, in collaboration with local research institutes’ Anthropology departments and the African Studies Center at the University of Leiden. The results of the ethnographic research produced a framework for understanding drivers and barriers to people growing trust in digital financial services.
This paper analyzes the...
by ERIN B. TAYLOR, Canela Consulting & Holland FinTech
Evidence produced within quantitative disciplines like economics and finance carries an aura of gospel. The numbers, models, and forecasts we see in economic reports and market analyses in the news and reports seem certain, authoritative, and unarguable.
Built on large data sets that are analyzed with widely accepted theories and tools, economic and financial evidence have become hugely influential in governance and business—so much so that more qualitative approaches have been sidelined.
Even political economy, the original economics, has been pushed away in favor of what’s now called ‘evidence-based decision-making’. The presumption is that numerical data is the only solid information, and that the analytical tools used in economic and market analysis are reliable.
Of course, as we know now, this faith in economic evidence can be dangerous. As markets crashed around the world during the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, confidence in all kinds of quantitative...
San Jose State University
This paper shares the experiences of two teams of design professionals working on parallel grassroots social impact design projects to address poverty and financial precarity in Silicon Valley and London. This paper explores challenges facing these teams as they channel a sense of moral outrage into the research and development of alternitives to high-risk financial services like payday loans. It charts the open, inclusive design process of these teams as they engage community partners and recognize the financial expertise of people getting by on tight incomes. The paper concludes with a discussion of how working slowly and openly through transdisciplinary communities of practice—like the two groups described here, or EPIC itself—can help keep alive conversations around power and activism in the practice of design and ethnographic research. These conversations are essential if social impact design is to reach its transformative potential while avoiding many of the pitfalls that have...
ERIN B. TAYLOR
Canela Consulting and Holland FinTech
Consumer finance markets are being transformed by the increasing mobility of people, products, technology, and information. This presents challenges for understanding changing consumer behaviour and building adaptable business models. Researchers are rising to meet these challenges by adapting their frameworks and methods to take account of mobility's effects. I present three cases of method adaptation to consumer finance research (financial diaries, object-centred interviews, social network analysis) and discuss their contributions. The complexity and personalisation of consumer finance requires us to not only be more creative with how we approach research, but also more robust in questioning our assumptions, framing appropriate questions, and designing research that draws frameworks and methods from multiple disciplines.
One can only understand and apply all these new innovations by playing close to the ball and understanding customers’ needs and expectations....
This case examines an effort by San Francisco-based Square to gain a better understanding of its customers who reside outside of major metropolitan areas. The first part of the case provides detail on research: a mobile ethnography study of small business owners conducted over a two-week period at the end of 2016 followed by in-person interviews of a select group of participants. The second half offers a discussion of the research findings, including the attributes and perspectives shared by small business owners. The research and analysis suggest that the sense of community in small towns colors every facet of small business, from the deep connections that proprietors feel with their customers, other business owners, and their community as a whole. The commercial and social aspects of businesses in small towns can't be separated. Often, businesses act as a force that helps keep the community viable. Moreover, the needs of small business owners in the heartland differs from their counterparts in larger...
by ERIN B. TAYLOR , Canela Consulting
On 1 June, 2012, I arrived at the British Museum to attend the opening of its newly renovated Citi Money Gallery. This was an exciting moment for me: inside was a display of money-related objects and images from Haiti that I collected with Heather Horst and Espelencia Baptiste for a research project. I couldn’t wait to see how our coins, phones, cards, and underwear with secret pockets for hiding cash would look inside this venerated institution.
It was a huge success. People were spending far more time in the new gallery, lingering over the displays. Why, all of a sudden, was money so much more gripping?
The answer, said curator Katie Eagleton, was the social aspect. Whereas traditional money galleries usually focus on coins, promissory notes, and other traditional forms of money, the new gallery includes a range of displays that focus on the social history and current practices of money. Not just for coin-collecting enthusiasts, the money gallery had something of interest for everybody.
JULIA KATHERINE HAINES
University of California, Irvine
The aim of this paper is to explore the potential for ethnographic approaches in technology startups and the venture capital firms that support and control them. The current practices and model of innovation aim for “disruptive innovation,” but most efforts fall short, prioritizing mass diffusion and not focusing on where true disruptive innovation lies—creating a change in meaning. I argue that an ethnographic approach can lead to innovation of meanings, bridging the gap between radical innovation and diffusion, and creating disruptive innovation. I discuss some ways ethnography can help product innovation in the startup sphere. But, more importantly, I discuss how ethnography holds great potential for reshaping the VC field, by driving meaning into the VC I then highlight alternative viewpoints that move beyond the “realist” perspective.
Keywords: Innovation, Technology, New Product Development, Finance...
Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
Karen Ho is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her research centers on understanding and analyzing the culture of finance and financial institutions, its impact on corporate America as well as on broader norms of work, employment, and insecurity. Her widely acclaimed book Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street—based on three years of fieldwork among investment bankers and major financial institutions—punctures many of the assumptions about how markets work” (Times Literary Supplement). Read more about Karen, her research on Wall Street and the culture of risk, and what anthropology contributes to our understanding of finance....
EMIL STIGSGAARD FUGLSANG
ReD Associates Download PDF
This tutorial will provide you with a foundational understanding of how businesses operate from financial, organizational, and strategic standpoints. However, rather than providing you with only a list of terminologies or a toolbox of frameworks, the goal of this course is to help participants gain an intuition around how to think like a business – especially when coming from a social science background and practice.
The course is designed for social scientists, designers, academics, corporate innovation teams, and other non-MBA professionals looking to enter the corporate world or make a bigger impact in their organizations. Throughout the course, participants will learn how to feed this knowledge back into their own work and ethnographic approaches, particularly around framing a project and turning insights into credible and impactful recommendations. Using Whole Foods as a case study, this course will cover:...
by ALEX JINICH, Gemic
A person’s wellbeing is in great measure a product of a pleasant environment, and as a society we are placing progressively more value in creating such environments in the form of comfortable offices, welcoming homes, and inspiring shops. It is remarkable, for example, the degree to which the luxurious Dubai airport, where I am now, has been carefully designed to make you feel at ease as you leisurely cruise through it as though through a warmly illuminated exhibit hall. To a large degree, however, the precise features that make such an environment valuable are nuanced intangibles. In other words, environments are always experienced as unified wholes, and the value they create for us is greater than the sum of its parts.
In the airport, the warm and gentle lighting is as much a part of the overall experience as are the carefully curated glossy brands and the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen that sell them. The harmony and general atmosphere creates value above and beyond the sum of the values of the individual...
EPIC Profiles Series
by RACHEL C. FLEMING, University of Colorado at Boulder
What do sentiments and ideologies have to do with Wall Street? Karen Ho would argue they are key for understanding and changing Wall Street’s institutional culture that generates and justifies a focus on the short-term. From working in a firm to interviewing workers and studying corporate publications, Karen’s insights into how particular mindsets come to dominate corporations or whole industries—in this case, the culture of liquidity—can help us transition from a culture of shortsightedness to one of creating long-term value.
Karen did not originally aspire to become an anthropologist, but her upbringing shaped her anthropological outlook in ways she realized only after she became one. Her father was a first-generation Taiwanese American doctor and the only OB-GYN in a fifty-mile radius in Covington, Tennessee. Growing up in the South as an Asian American child who didn’t belong clearly in any one group taught her how to think about race,...
University of California Santa Cruz
In this paper, I will use an ethnographic research project to develop a set of foundational personas to work through the process of formulating insights that challenged the core epistemological assumptions of our stakeholders. Drawing on a rich body of discourse within postcolonial theory, I will highlight the concept of critical hermeneutics that emphasizes thinking about the conditions under which knowledge is produced over the “facticity” of the research artifacts, shifting the focus from “how objective is the information” to “what assumptions are driving research.” Put simply, critical hermeneutics can be seen as a method that uses reflexivity to explain how meaning is not absolute or empirical, but rather emerges from active interpretation that is informed by context. With this theoretical framework in mind, I will describe the methods used to include our stakeholders in the process of engaging with research data and ultimately derive the epistemological cores of the...