information & communications technology

The “Consumption Junction” of ICT in Emerging Markets: An Ethnography of Middlemen

ELISA OREGLIA and KATHI KITNER In rural China and India, a fragmented commercial distribution system and the lack of online shopping can significantly limit the range of consumer choice. In this paper, we look at the role that mobile phone shopkeepers—the middlemen—play in influencing what users can and will buy, but also in training them in using and understanding technology....

Trajectories of Change in Global Enterprise Transformation

JEANETTE BLOMBERG This paper reports on the efforts of a global IT services company to transform the way it delivers IT outsourcing services. The change initiative was designed to bring about a radical transformation in the how work gets done across the enterprise with the expected benefit of delivering greater service quality and reliability at a lower cost. In addition, the standardization of processes and tools would allow work to move more freely from one location to another thus creating flexibility to meet changing demands. Based on a study of the impact of this initiative on four global delivery centers we explore how change occurs within organizations both as an ongoing achievement and as the result of explicit corporate initiatives. Taking account of the particular historic, geographic, demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural characteristics of individual delivery centers we trace trajectories of change with the aim of providing both a broad synoptic view given these differences in delivery centers characteristics and a detailed...

Limitations of Online Medical Care: Interpersonal Resistance and Cultural Hurdles in the Face of Technological Advances

PENSRI HO In 2009, a health care service organization in Hawaii launched a online medical consultation program intent to serve the needs of clients in rural Oahu and the neighboring islands, which faced increasing shortages of primary care clinicians. Patients could go online for medical advice from on-call Hawaii based clinicians. However, physicians and statewide medical agencies were critical of the program due to ethical concerns, medical licensure and insurance coverage, and deviation from socio-cultural practices specific to Hawaii. This empirical paper traces and examines the legal and medical ethics of telemedicine in the face of Hawaii's socio-cultural orthodoxy of interpersonal engagement and obligation called the ohana (Native Hawaiian for “family”), and the implications for telemedicine as a medical care resource for the state and nationally....

Replacing the Network Society with Social Foam: A Revolution for Corporate Ethnography?

NINA WAKEFORD What would it mean for corporate ethnography to think of society not as a network, but rather as an agglomeration of bubbles that constitute foam? The article offers a comparison of the metaphors of network and foam and their implications for the analysis of contemporary sociality. It draws on the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s theory that we live not in one mono-spherical society but rather in apluralityofmicro-spherestobedescribedassocialfoam. Anemphasisonatmospheres,affectand contagiousness follows from this conceptualization of the social world. These consequences are discussed, and some suggestions offered of how Sloterdijk’s ideas might shift the focus of corporate ethnography. Although primarily a conceptual intervention, the article also describes how organizational theory has started to deploy the concept of social foam. It concludes with a reexamination, through a focus on atmospheres, of a previous study undertaken at Intel, which shifts the emphasis of the analysis....

Unclear Social Etiquette Online: How Users Experiment (and Struggle) with Interacting across Many Channels and Devices in an Ever-Evolving and Fast-Changing Landscape Of Communication Tools

MARTIN ORTLIEB People care and worry about how online and online/offline interactions should practically happen. They experiment with different tools and different visions of themselves in different situations, be they online or offline or across both. However, they feel there is no established etiquette about how purely online relationships should be conducted, but also how to transform relationships that began ‘online only’ into their social environments that reach beyond the Web. In this paper, I illustrate how user expectations of the desired practical experience conflict with the predominant model, “concentric circles of social distance,” that underlies most tools/services. Through six strategies of user workarounds I show glimpses of models that users do employ as they struggle to find stable ground for moral and ethical behavior as they experiment with interactions online....

Cracking Representations of Emerging Markets: It’s Not Just about Affordability

KATHI KITNER, RENEE KURIYAN and SCOTT D. MAINWARING This paper will examine the social factors that mediate technology adoption among the emerging middle class in order to show how messaging, positioning, and targeting communications to potential consumers, if based on flawed representations, such as the First Time Buyer, can lead to missed market opportunities, or worse. We advocate an alternative approach based on ethnographic frameworks that can help to gauge the social viability of products, deconstructing these assumptions and notions to help smooth the path of technology adoption in emerging markets. To represent our findings, we created a “tool,” the “Social Viability Measure (SVM),” to help private industry and others approach new markets by bringing an understanding of social forces into the strategic planning, messaging and positioning of products....

Innovation in Collaboration: Using an Internet-Based Research Tool as a New Way to Share Ethnographic Knowledge

BETH DI LEONE and ELIZABETH EDWARDS Ethnography in business is only successful if it is a cooperative, communicative endeavor. Research teams must be able to share knowledge with one another and with the client. In the absence of effective communication, time is wasted, analytic quality can suffer, and the client may lose faith in the value of the project or the value of ethnography in business. This paper will address the subject of transmissivity by defining four key needs for knowledge sharing in collaborative ethnographic research: direct experience of the research context, even distribution of knowledge, coordinated development of analysis, and management of the client experience. After synthesizing the literature on knowledge sharing to define these four key needs, the paper will describe how an internet based research tool can enable global, continuous, and controlled information exchange, meeting these needs in a new way. This type of solution can facilitate communication and enrich contextual understanding, pointing in a new...

Keitai, Blog, and Kuuki-wo-yomu (Read the Atmosphere): Communicative Ecology in Japanese Society

TADAMASA KIMURA In mobile communications studies, Japan is known for its “keitai culture.” However, the actual use of keitai among the Japanese is anything but glamorous. On the other hand, strong preference of online diary and diary blogs among the Japanese is remarkable. What is puzzling, however, is that the Japanese online diarists and bloggers have been astoundingly self-effacing. What communications are they engaged in, with providing little information about themselves? Relying on and advancing the methodological perspective of “communicative ecology,” this study discusses the way online diaries and blogs are intertwined with mobile communications, embedded in the communicative ecology. It also reveals the way “kuuki wo yomu” (read the atmosphere) motivates people’s expectations and actions in social communications, contributing to the formation of the communicative ecology....

ICT4D => ICT4X: Mitigating the Impact of Cognitive Heuristics and Biases in Ethnographic Business Practice

TONY SALVADOR, JOHN W. SHERRY, L. WILTON AGATSTEIN and HSAIN ILAHIANE With more than five billion people, large corporations have expressed non-trivial interest in “emerging markets” as potential future sources of revenue. We in this community of ethnographic praxis, are privileged to move with some ease between corporate board rooms and people’s living rooms around the world. Yet, our messages and meanings that might lead to positive action are hampered by both our own language – that of development – and the ways in which people hear our language through specific cognitive heuristics and biases. In this paper, we specifically unpack the prevalent business interest concerning the “digital divide”. We discuss how that particular framing, i.e., digital, divide, essentializes upwards of 85-90% of the global population as simply poor and living in developing countries limiting business engagement. We argue that these predilections are further magnified by specific cognitive heuristics and biases we all posses but which are...

Navigating Value and Vulnerability with Multiple Stakeholders: Systems Thinking, Design Action and the Ways of Ethnography

MELISSA CLIVER, CATHERINE HOWARD and RUDY YULY A growing cadre of organizations, corporations, NGOs and philanthropic foundations seek to address difficult global problems like poverty using social innovation and technology. Such problems are multivalent, deep-rooted, ever changing and culturally specific. Amid this complicated terrain, ethnographic tools and methods are uniquely suited and key to successfully addressing these large-scale dilemmas. In our project, we use dynamic combinations of research, strategy and creative thinking to develop scalable financial service prototypes designed to promote financial inclusion for the world’s poorest individuals. Fostering holistic solutions in this arena requires new ways of conceiving, designing and delivering innovation. In this paper we describe our process and vision for navigating these complex environments with hybrid strategies and an embrace of systems thinking1. We conclude with six imperatives for success in global social innovation projects....

Representing the Non-formal: The Business of Internet Cafés in India

NIMMI RANGASWAMY It is our contention that small businesses of information and communication technologies are deeply embedded in a context of non-formal business relations and practices in developing economies. Cyber cafés in the city of Mumbai, the subject of our study, operate in and through an unregulated grey market of non-formal business practices. In this paper we explore the fit of ICTs into this ‘area’ of commercial practices. We do this by profiling café managers, business strategies and contextualizing these in the broader culture of non-formal business relationships pervading every day transactions. With regulatory discourse of information technologies centered on piracy and illegitimacy, informality of business practices in emerging economies provide an alternate premise to understand its nature and function. These challenge received notions of visualizing IT in emerging economies as simply piracy and illegality. It also implies coming to terms with markets shaped and structured by para-legal and non-formal processes...

‘Mental Kartha Hai’ or ‘Its Blowing My Mind’: Evolution of the Mobile Internet in an Indian Slum

NIMMI RANGASWAMY and S. YAMSANI Download PDF This paper is an ethnographic exploration of on-line practices of teens in a slum in Hyderabad, India. It is also an attempt to develop concepts for building a novel user model in unique socio-technical ecology. We examine how teenagers relate to the internet, develop expertise, and engage themselves in a socio-technical universe of family, peers, and locality. As ethnographers we look for qualitative indicators embedded in broader social and cultural ecologies of youth engagement with the mobile internet. We identify learning, innovation and self-perception of internet use as modes of everyday negotiation between both rising usage desires and stringent costs....

“It Was Like a Little Community”: An Ethnographic Study of Online Learning and its Implications for MOOCs

CHRISTINA WASSON In this time of social, technical, educational and industrial upheaval, time and space are being compressed and stretched as social actors develop new practices in response to shifts in their lived experience. In the American educational sector, these phenomena have crystalized in the meteoritic rise of MOOCs, massive open online courses. The story of their ascent weaves together neoliberal shifts in financing education, technology developments, and perceived business opportunities. MOOCs have captured the imagination of the business press, venture capitalists, and university leaders. However, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the perceptions of students who are taking online courses – in other words, the users. Drawing on an ethnographic study of a small online class, this paper describes the limitations of MOOC pedagogies by comparison with low-enrollment online courses, and concludes by casting doubt on the effectiveness of MOOC learning experiences as well as MOOC business models....

Contextualizing Customers

TRULS ERIK JOHNSEN and PER HELMERSEN This paper is based on fieldwork in Pakistan and Malawi and focuses on the importance of communicating contextualizing stories to HQ and business developer teams. By means of an explorative approach—even in highly structured commercial projects with formalized needs—we’ve uncovered findings and generated understandings that would be hard to pinpoint from a desktop-based pre-study or demand driven fieldwork. These findings in turn have proven to be important tools for said business developers in spite of the fact that they were not included in the initial fieldwork specification. Since our respondents are seen, heard and understood as far as possible within their own framework of values, priorities and aspirations, we, as researchers, are in a position to communicate a well-grounded and more refined picture of their daily lives rather than merely communicating the measurable hard facts back to corporate business developers....

Now You See It and Now You Don’t: Consequences of Veiling Relational Work

LISA KREEGER and ELIZABETH HOLLOWAY This paper offers findings from a study of relationship formation in Information Technology (I.T.) outsourcing services and explores the conditions in which relational practices are veiled by the work designs, tools, business lingo, and even media representations of Information Technology outsourcing services. Veiling describes the way the language and focus of these elements have taken over and permeated organizations to levels where the aspects of relational work are obscured. As a result, relational skills are delegitimized, work is slowed down, conflict results from incorrect assumptions, and inefficient technology is tolerated. We identify intended and unintended consequences, on individuals and organizations, of relational veiling as a strategy that emerges in response to the everyday realities of the workplace....