Qual and quant are so divided these days—by academic discipline, language, communities of practice, job titles. Too often, quantitative research is conflated with data science (or vice versa), and data science with optimization algorithms or simply engineering. In many organizations, being “data-driven” tends to define “data” with a narrow conception of enumeration and (mis-) conceptions about the kind of evidence that is suitable to act on.
This tutorial critically examines this territory and move beyond it, empowering ethnographers to develop more interdisciplinary programs of inquiry. First the instructors review fundamentals of quantitative research and provide tools ethnographers can use to evaluate its quality and validity. Then they examine constraints and barriers to quant/qual collaboration, including time, funding, values, epistemological conflicts, organizational silos, and more. Finally, using core principles that underlie...
Ethnography is closely associated with the core qualitative methods of interviewing and observation. But ethnographers in business often work with a broad range of other methods, from video and diary studies to surveys and sensors. This tutorial examines the relationship between research and design, producing data and producing things. It considers the research process as a design process and a wide range of methods across the research and design spectrum. Participants engaged in active exercises to examine creativity, complexity, compromise and choice in research design, and consider the role of stakeholder thinking. Finally, the tutorial encouraged researchers to conceptualize their work as a long-term endeavor beyond the boundaries of a discrete project, with tips for organizing data and files as well as creating quality criteria.
Participants were asked to prepare for this workshop by exploring and perhaps journaling about past projects that did not provide clients with their desired outcomes. They considered...
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...
by SALLY A. APPLIN, PhD
Anthropology and its methodologies cannot easily be automated. However, both design and engineering based organizations are attempting it. I argue that this is based in part on historic legacy systems, a misunderstanding of the ethnographic toolkit, and an over-reliance on the principles of Bauhaus, Six Sigma, and Science Fiction.
Quantifiying and Automating the Qualitative
After interviewing at several other engineering focused companies in their User Experience groups, I recently interviewed for a job at a renowned design firm. The design firm advertised for a "Director of Insights and Strategy," a job I’m well suited for. However, after I travelled to their offices, gave a presentation and spoke with them, it became apparent that what they really wanted was probably just a Research Manager (e.g. someone to provide a checklist of conventional methods that can be replicated, and someone who would guide others to use them as well). Prior to my arrival, the company had said that they wanted...
University of Calgary
This paper questions the role and form of ethnography in the studio setting through a comparative analysis of interviews with service and brand designers, and the promotional rhetoric of the studio organizations in which they work. It proposes that the way in which designers practice ‘ethnography’ consists of an adapted and hybrid methodological approach based not on theoretically informed data collection, analysis and interpretation, but instead of an assemblage of embodied research approaches. The ways in which designers substitute proxy audience membership, performance and praxiography for traditional ethnographic methods in their creative work and their acts of negotiation between the structural expectations of the studio organization and their own practice of cultural production are considered.
Keywords: Design Ethnography, Design Research, Methodology, Practice...
by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners
"There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen."
My country has changed so dramatically in the last few days that I don’t know where to start. I don’t know if I even know my own country anymore. I am reeling. Shocked. Dismayed. Worried. I am not alone in feeling that the UK now faces not one but many existential crises.
The Referendum has delivered a Leave mandate that no political organisation, or individual, is able or willing to enact. The country is in crisis. No one appears to have a plan. And if they did have a plan it would make horrible reading.
I’m not a political pundit and there are plenty of good and intelligent analyses of this slow motion car crash elsewhere. I suggest this piece on the sociology of Brexit, and this and this.
Instead, I want to use EPIC’s invitation to reflect on a related crisis—the interpretive crisis faced by politicians, political parties and those in power who need to radically rethink how they understand...
by PETER HAYWARD JONES, OCAD University, Toronto
[this is one of two posts on sensemaking; see also the companion piece Sensemaking in Organizations by Laura McNamara]
I’ve seen a lot of methodology fashion come and go. Before completing a doctorate that really anchored my work in ethnography, I was trained as a cognitive psychologist, designing and evaluating user experience for software and information technology. Since the 1980s, I’ve watched methodologies emerge, some becoming fads and others disappearing from the canon. I’ve learned and applied methods consistent with the theoretical commitments and practices of a methodology. My experience with sensemaking methodology has a long timeline, which relates to how we establish “methodological commitments.” This post explores those commitments and major developments and types of sensemaking methodology.
As an early usability methodologist – I was trained in IBM and built a few labs before Microsoft had labs – I explored the full range of applications of lab and...
by JAY HASBROUCK, Hasbrouck Research Group
(This article is also available in Chinese)
Lufthansa flight 490, Seattle to Frankfurt
Dinner just served, everyone was settling in, each in various stages of preparing their coping mechanisms for the painfully long flight. Laptops, eye masks, charge cords, earphones, earplugs, slippers, hand cream…they were very busy. The woman next to me popped a sleeping pill and was situating her blankets. I began my own ritual of scanning the entertainment channels to plan my movie lineup. As I was flipping through documentaries, I unexpectedly ran across an educational featurette titled “Design Thinking in 30 Minutes.” Yes, 30 minutes!
The more I thought about this featurette as an offering aimed at a mass audience, the more it seemed like an indicator of sorts to me. At face value, it’s a sign that interest in design thinking has become so widespread that a 30-minute short on the subject warranted inclusion in a carefully curated inflight entertainment lineup. But did it also suggest...
by NEAL H. PATEL, Google
What is an anthropologist? What does an ethnographer actually do? I used to believe that my own answers to these questions were sufficient. In reality, however, the existential dilemma at the foundation of any institution—academic, professional, or otherwise—is a socially constructed affair. In other words, whether I want to admit it or not, my answers are partially your answers—for that matter, all of our collective answers.
Indeed, the very existence of a mutually shared set of practical assumptions about ethnography is what makes these questions so important. Meanings are contested, negotiated, and (if you believe Berger and Luckmann1) thereby constitutive of the agreed-upon fiction we call “reality.” Most of us might agree that we are, more or less, the biographers of that fiction. We are interested in how it comes into being, what sustains it, what motivates it, and how it responds to challenges. We pluck assumptions from reality and sell them to clients. Together, this activity constitutes...
by PEDRO OLIVEIRA, Independent Research Consultant
As a young social scientist I used to be incredibly attracted to dense theoretical texts in anthropology, psychology and the social sciences in general. I equated thickness of language to complexity of thought. I no longer do. When I truly disowned the belief that obscure language hides complex thinking, I had two choices—either let go of theory altogether or develop a different appetite for it. I developed an appetite for clear theory and clear language.
Theory in business research, even when informed by the social sciences, demands clarity. At this point in our development as a business research community informed by social sciences, new theory is essential. If we are to overcome the still-dominant view in academia that our work is merely a practical “derivate” of more erudite scholarship in universities, we should invest in our own theory.
Many of us are doing this work: it is showcased every year at EPIC and collected online in EPIC’s Intelligences [www.epicpeople.org],...
by JEFF DAVISON, Microsoft
I spent 44 hours with hackers to learn that everything I thought I knew about hacking was wrong. In the process, I learned that events like hackathons represent a similar social hub to those Jan Chipchase identifies in his book Hidden in Plain Sight. These hubs help researchers find their feet quickly in new cultures. As a research community, we can help one another by sharing details of these hubs and some of the reasons we have for choosing them.
Hackathons attract lead users, which makes them useful to people tasked with delivering formative research. If you work in the tech field, they should be on a list of essential events to attend together with Maker Faires and the various gatherings of the ever growing Meet Up culture. They represent a strategic starting point for field inquiry. My own journey went something like this…
Hacking culture has a special place in the hearts of the West’s techno-literati, and carries with it all the cultural relevance and formative...
NEAL H. PATEL
While research practitioners remain deadlocked in old debates about the incompatibility and validity of qualitative versus quantitative research, streams of real-time data are overwhelming leading companies with individual-level insights at a scale and velocity impossible to achieve with traditional methods. Remaining relevant in the age of analytics no longer depends on the perfection of either methodology, but on the evolution of a creative, inter-disciplinary combination of both qualitative and quantitative approaches.
Nevertheless, until we are done with the past, the past is never truly done with us. This paper establishes a new inter-disciplinary epistemology by tracing the historical development of the current qualitative versus quantitative divide. In so doing, I aim to discredit the assumptions underpinning the current debate, and illustrate how the shared epistemological origins of both statistics and ethnography inform the empirical formulations behind new “hybrid” quantitative-qualitative methods....
JAMES GLASNAPP and ELLEN ISAACS
After many years with little innovation in parking technology, many cities are now exploring new systems meant to improve the use of limited parking real estate, reduce congestion, increase parking convenience, and raise additional revenue. We did an observational study to inform the design of one such novel parking system, and in doing so developed an ethnographic method we call REACT (Rapid Ethnographic Assessment and Communication Technique). REACT uses observational methods to uncover key findings relatively quickly and increases the impact of those findings by communicating them through an engaging video podcast. In this paper, we describe the REACT method and show how we used it to discover several key findings regarding parking practices that changed our team’s thinking about the intended customer, highlighted some critical design issues, and revealed unanticipated opportunities for new technology solutions. The video podcasts were extremely well received and ultimately affected the thinking of...
ALEX S. TAYLOR, LAUREL SWAN and DAVE RANDALL
In the following, we suggest that the product of ethnographies undertaken for commercial and industrial purposes is under threat of losing its integrity. The sorts of results furnished through ‘applied ethnography’ and those resulting from methods like focus groups, interviews, questionnaires, etc. appear largely of the same kind; they describe and codify the members of a setting and their behaviours, and differ, if at all, in terms of depth and detail. In short, it is not easy to distinguish between the product of applied ethnography and that produced from the many other methods available. This apparent dissolution begs the question ‘what’s left’ for applied ethnography and, indeed, for its practitioners? We report on our efforts to take this question seriously and reflect on how ‘the ethnomethodological policy of indifference’ has offered a useful starting point. Having situated this policy in a disciplinary context, we offer brief examples of how its insistence on a distinct...
An oft-stated rule in design and engineering is, “Good, fast, cheap: pick two”. The success of ethnography in business has forced this rule into action with a vengeance. As a result, ethnographers now face a threat experienced by many categories of worker over the past two centuries: job de-skilling. Some mechanisms of de-skilling in business-world ethnography are reviewed, including:
simplifications that invert the conventional depth-vs.-breadth balance of ethnographic knowledge;
standardizations that permit research to be distributed among workers of varying cost;
the rise of ethnographic piecework suppliers who rely on pools of underemployed social scientists.
I argue that pressures leading in this direction must be contested, and that only by altering the cost-time-quality paradigm that controls our work can we restore its value to our employers and clients....