by DINA MEHTA & STUART HENSHALL, Convo
Ethnographic context helps people see alternate possibilities and situations where decisions may play out—and create better futures.
The future, of course, is inherently unpredictable. As the EPIC2021 theme Anticipation begins, “There are no future facts. Yet we humans constantly create potential futures.”
People create futures when they begin to see alternate possibilities and situations where their decisions—and those of others—may play out. This creates choices and potential options, while also identifying risks, implications of operating in a different world, and new areas for research and exploration. To do this, organizations need to be able to learn about the world “out there,” as well as understand and shift their own positioning within it.
How can ethnographers facilitate this quest to anticipate the future? Our work has focused on the organizational change needed for our clients to see and create new potentials. As ethnographers we bring stories into the organization,...
RICH RADKA, Chair
This panel explores the specific reasons organizations generate ideas about the future, the methods they choose, how they act on foresight, and consequences for both business and society. Panelists address the theme of scale in various dimensions, such as how to appropriately scale our imaginings, scaling to multiple time horizons, scaling breadth vs. depth of focus, and thinking of scale in terms of organizational value creation.
Rich Radka has 20+ years of providing deep human insights to corporate, scale-up and public sector clients in the arenas of innovation, customer experience, strategy and forecasting. He brings inspired design thinking, and a practical human-centred approach to co-create solutions that involve customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders.Wendy Chamberlin serves as the Global Program Director for the BOMA Project, a livelihood development...
San Jose State University
Institute for the Future
San Jose State University
This tutorial introduces Ethnofutures to ethnographers who want to integrate forecasting methods and tools into their current professional practices. The goal is to translate ethnographic material into imaginative, but grounded, scenarios of their future users, services, and products. Practitioners, such as designers and business strategists, must imagine futures based on existing signals of change. Those signals can come from the activities of individuals, the organizations in which they work, as well as the larger social events around them. The forces fomenting change can be highly localized, such as a specific municipal policy on gig workers or also be global in scope, pointing to the role of gig work as a facet of contemporary transnational capitalism. Moreover, the future itself is scalable: Organizations toggle between data-rich forecasts that extend less than a year, to more speculative...
More Things Considered
More Things Considered
Our tiny provocation is that the word “sustainability” is not sustainable. Just using it is sabotaging our efforts to build a better future for the planet. Despite decades of global sustainability discourse, the world is still going to hell. What's gone wrong? Our paper is about willful ignorance and complicity at a global scale; the benefits of small talk; and a better, more effective word than sustainability.
Article citation: 2020 EPIC Proceedings pp 300–321, ISSN 1559-8918, https://www.epicpeople.org/epic...
FANI NTAVELOU BAUM
Despite companies facing real consequences for getting ethics wrong, basic ethical questions in emerging technologies remain unresolved. Companies have begun trying to answer these tough questions, but their techniques are often hindered by the classical approach of moral philosophy and ethics – namely normative philosophy – which prescribe an approach to resolving ethical dilemmas from the outset, based on assumed moral truths. In contrast, we propose that a key foundation for ‘getting ethics right’ is to do the opposite: to discover them, by going out into the world to study how relevant people resolve similar ethical dilemmas in their daily lives – a project we term ‘grounded ethics’. Building from Durkheim's theory of moral facts and more recent developments in the anthropology of morals and ethics, this paper explores the methods and theory useful to such a mission – synthesizing these into a framework to guide future...
The auto insurance industry is being disrupted by insurtechs that are leveraging data and technology to solve pain points in parts of the customer journey, while emerging technology in adjacent industries threatens insurance as it currently exists. As a result, insurance companies are imagining futures beyond traditional insurance and new ways that they might meet the needs of future customers. In order to explore what a reframing of insurance as “protection” could mean to customers, we utilized ethnographic methods and speculative design practices to reimagine how the transition from non-driver to young driver and from dependent child to independent adult could be more fully supported by an insurance company. In this case study, we review both the methodological processes and summarize learnings and opportunities critical to applying ethnofutures and speculative design practices within a large corporate setting, including: proposing a new approach to a diverse group of stakeholders;...
Case Study—We consider new expectations for ethnographic observation and sensemaking in the next 20-25 years, as technology industry ethnographers' work unfolds in the increasing presence of the type of analytical capabilities specially trained (and self-training) machines can do ‘better’ and ‘cheaper’ than humans as they can take in, analyze and model digital data at much higher volumes and with an attention to nuance not achievable through human cognition alone. We do so by re-imagining three of our existing ethnographic research projects with the addition of very specific applications of machine learning, computer vision, and Internet of Things sensing and connectivity technologies. We draw speculative conclusions about: (1) how data in-and-of-the world that drives tech innovation will be collected and analyzed, (2) how ethnographers will approach analysis and findings, and (3) how the evidence produced by ethnographers will be evaluated and validated....
DONNA K. FLYNN
Vice President of WorkSpace Futures, Steelcase
EPIC2018 Keynote Address
Donna Flynn is Vice President of WorkSpace Futures and Market Insights at Steelcase. She leads a global team of researchers that delve into wicked problems around the future of work and translate those insights to inform the design of strategies, products, and services. Flynn joined Steelcase in 2011 from Microsoft, where she held a number of user experience leadership roles in product groups focused on mobility, healthcare, and consumer strategy. Prior to Microsoft, she led client projects for Sapient in San Francisco, working with technology and telecommunications clients such as Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, and Sprint. Earlier in her career she worked on international development and microfinance with the International Center for Research on Women, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the World Bank. Flynn received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Northwestern University in 1997. She has been a leader in the EPIC...
by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners
Today I turned left out of London Bridge station. I usually turn right and take the Tube but instead I went in the other direction and took the bus. I can’t explain why I did that.
Perhaps I was responding to a barely discernible change in crowd density or the fact that it was a bit warm today and I didn’t want to ride the Tube. Either way, I was trusting instincts that I am not able to translate into words.
Often when I travel around London I reach for the CityMapper app. I rely on it to tell me how best to get from A to Z but I don’t really know how it makes the recommendations it does. Likely it has access to information about the performance of the Tube today or real time knowledge of snarl-ups on London’s medieval roads. It’s clever and I love it. It knows more than I do about these things and what to do about them.
The workings of CityMapper are a mystery to me—but so are the workings of my brain. Even if I had a sophisticated understanding of neuroscience, physiology...
Those who work in research know that we live in a world that is strongly influenced by what Tricia Wang has called the quantification bias. More so than other forms of information, numbers have incredible formative power. In our culture, numbers are seen as trustworthy representations of reality that are strongly associated with objectivity and untainted by human bias and shortcomings. Recently, data science, big data, algorithms, and machine learning have fueled a new wave of the quantification bias. One of the central fascinations of this wave has been the promise that humans now have the power of prediction at their fingertips. In this paper, I reflect on what it means to make predictions and explore the differences in how predictions are accomplished via quantitative modeling and ethnographic observation. While this is not the first time that ethnographic work has been put in conversation and in contrast with quantified practices, most theorists have framed the role of ethnography as providing context...
Design fiction and ethnographic methods strengthen each other by creating a creative but rigorous scaffolding for interrogating expectations and reactions to the future. Design fiction can influence the activities, people, and places in which ethnography is done, and ethnography can create design fictions. Viewers and creators populate design fictions with their own past, present, and hoped for future. The intersection of these methods push ethnography beyond the edges of its thoughtful consideration of the present moment, in order to begin investigating the future....
How is hope a driver of change? This paper explores hope in two cases: rural Cambodia, through the adoption of drip irrigation by subsistence farmers, and an urban center in Minnesota, through the planning of infrastructure improvements for a freeway corridor. It also explores the argument that, with the rise of neoliberalism and global capitalism, the capacity of societies to distribute hope is shrinking (Hage 2003) and thus, in both cases, as people envision possible futures, they seek other agents of hope. Associations of hope with tangible things (e.g. drip irrigation kits, bridges, roads) drive change in the lived experiences of farming and transportation planning. For practitioners, this type of ethnographic work challenges their role regarding the value of skills in non-western and non-welcome marketplaces, the ethics of design, and their own participation in designing agents of hope....
by MELISSA CEFKIN & ERIK STAYTON, Nissan Research Center
As researchers working on automated vehicles, we are grappling with fundamental questions about how to do research and design for the future. Or, to be more precise, how can we tap into and participate in futures that are in the process of being made, that may both reproduce and rearrange experiences of today?
One of the questions we must ask is, what is autonomy to begin with? In the era of the rise of increasingly self-acting machines, what exactly will these machines be autonomous from? How are people grappling with shifting perceptions and experiences of autonomy? Our research has explored how people confront ideas about what the future may hold and, more profoundly, how reconfigurations of socio-technical systems today confront them in their own notions of autonomy.
Our paper about one of our research projects on this topic was accepted for EPIC2017, but not without some interesting debate. Anonymous peer reviewers raised a question about whether the work we...