methodology

“Ethnography of Ethnographers” and Qualitative Meta-Analysis for Business

JOSH KAPLAN and ALEXANDRA MACK The use of meta-analytic studies has grown steadily in recent decades as a means of establishing greater confidence and robustness of social science findings, but such approaches remain rare in the business world. This paper offers two inter-linked qualitative meta-analytic approaches for business: one that both draws on pre-existing data to gain insight into new strategic questions and reaches across multiple studies to achieve greater generalizability and robustness, and a second that studies researchers and research practice as a means of reflecting on and improving methodology in particular organizations or research groups. Drawing on an in-house study the authors conducted for a Fortune 500 corporation, this paper articulates these two approaches and points to potential dangers and opportunities in applying them in other settings. In a moment in which researchers are increasingly called upon to do more with less, our approach provides flexibility and adaptability to environments inhospitable to marshalling...

The QAME of Trans-disciplinary Ethnography: Making Visible Disciplinary Theories of Ethnographic Praxis as Boundary Object

ELIZABETH (DORI) TUNSTALL Framed by the idea that ethnography is a trans-disciplinary praxis, this paper adopts Alan Barnard’s framework of the theory as questions, assumptions, methods, and evidence (QAME) to compare how ethnographic praxis is approached across the domains of anthropology, marketing, and design. The companies Intel, Cheskin, and IDEO serve as exemplars for each domain, respectively. Through a content analysis of academic journals and popular media, the paper explores the discursive meanings of ethnography as a “boundary object” across many domains. The paper concludes with how Barnard’s QAME framework can be used to make visible ethnography’s multiple meanings so that practitioners can improve interdisciplinary collaborations within organizations and better articulate ethnography’s value to business....

Practice, Products and the Future of Ethnographic Work

MARIA BEZAITIS Ethnographic work in industry has spent two decades contributing to making products that matter in a range of industry contexts. This activity has accounted for important successes within industry. From the standpoint of ethnographic practice, however, the discursive infrastructure that has been developed to do our work within product development is now a limiting factor. For practice to evolve, we must look critically at the ways in which our current successes are indicators of a kind of stasis and that change is a matter of radically redefining the kinds of business problems ethnographic work should address and the values and behaviors associated with how we do our work....

All That Is Seen and Unseen: The Physical Environment as Informant

LISA REICHENBACH and MAGDA WESOLKOWSKA INTRODUCTION There is an old riddle, “What is everywhere, but invisible?”, to which the answer is “air”. But in ethnography applied within settings such as marketing and product innovation, the answer might as well be “the physical environment.” While social scientists are trained to consider informants and environment as interrelated and crucial information sources in ethnography, it nonetheless appears that all too often the environment may be underutilized in ethnography in many industry settings. This is a troublesome omission as the physical environment can be tremendously valuable to any ethnographer on the hook to find strategically relevant insights about a given target. This paper argues for a practice of industry-oriented ethnography in which the physical environment is viewed as an informant that helps us to find insights related to our end goal of understanding human behavior, such as what is highly motivating or what creates profound tensions for informants. We advance...

Who We Talk about When We Talk about Users

KRIS R. COHEN I begin with some questions: how have the theories and methods which subtend design research been changed by their migration from academy to industry? How have they adapted to their new commercial culture? What languages and customs have they had to acquire to fit in? To address these questions, I consider a facet of design research which I think most problematically bears the marks of this passage: how we choose who we will study. I go on to think about both the causes and implications of exclusions so often resident in this choice. The ideal that drives my analysis forward is that design researchers are in the business of designing not products for “users,” but landscapes of possibility for public life. A final suggestion, inspired by my recent work on Internet-based personal photography and here briefly sketched, is that design researchers take the publicness of our work more seriously—that we design for it....