organizational culture

Watch Party—Design & White Supremacy Culture

design & white supremacy culture, headshots of panelists

by Hello to the global EPIC Community! I’m the new community manager for Ethnography Hangout Slack, a space to discuss applied ethnography created by EPIC, Anthrodesign, and Ethnography Matters. I’m excited to energize even more engagement and inspire you to develop valuable connections and conversations there. To kick that off, I hope you’ll join our…

Design & White Supremacy Culture: A Call and Response

AUTUMN SANDERS FOSTER, Chair Quire Consulting NANCY DOUYON Douyon Signature Labs ANGELA GIST-MACKEY University of Kansas WILLIAM LEZ HENRY University of West London MELINDA WEEKES-LAIDLOW Beautiful Ventures Within the growing global discourse around race, whiteness, and racial injustice lies a call to address the ways systemic racism and normalized whiteness continue to shape our work. Many organizations have issued formal statements but struggle to identify and implement meaningful next steps. Through this panel, we will discuss how change works in concert with or opposition to dominant norms, values, and culture in our research and our organizations. Panelists Autumn Sanders Foster has worked with Fortune 500 companies, start-ups and non-profits, helping them grow their businesses by understanding their customers. She launched Quire Consulting in 2017 to provide clients access to qualitative research and design strategy that brings real people into the center of the design process. She leads clients...

Software Quality and Its Entanglements in Practice

JULIA PRIOR University of Technology Sydney JOHN LEANEY University of Technology Sydney Effective software quality assurance in large-scale, complex software systems is one of the most vexed issues in software engineering, and, it is becoming ever more challenging. Software quality and its assurance is part of software development practice, a messy, complicated and constantly shifting human endeavor. What emerged from our immersive study in a large Australian software development company is that software quality in practice is inextricably entangled with the phenomena of productivity, time, infrastructure and human practice. This ethnographic insight — made visible to the organization and its developers via the rich picture and the concept of entanglements — built their trust in our work and expertise. This led to us being invited to work with the software development teams on areas for change and improvement and moving to a participatory and leading role in organizational change. Keywords: ethnography, entanglements,...

Your Client Relationship Is an Ethnographic Field

artwork by andres musta, faces drawn on name tags
by JOHN CURRAN, JC Associates John is teaching a new EPIC Course, Creating Impact with Projects & Clients: Leveraging Organizational Culture. Hope you enjoy this article and check out his course! —ed. Some years ago a renowned UK-based charity invited me to help them understand why their legacy donations had flat lined for two years. The conventional wisdom had been that charitable donations had decreased as a result of the financial crisis in 2008. But when a statistical analysis showed that donations to other, similar sized charities were in fact increasing, they realized the problem was not just macroeconomics. The charity wanted new insights to explain their stagnation. Organizations generally hire ethnographers to help them understand the world “out there,” and that was the brief my contract client produced. But delivering insights is not the same as creating value. I quickly discovered that for insights to matter, the scope of my project—from kick-off to signoff—would have to include the client’s organizational...

Using Employee Opinion Surveys Ethnographically

by MERITXELL RAMÍREZ-I-OLLÉ When my boss asked me to carry out an employee opinion survey in our company, I had to overcome my ingrained prejudices against surveys in general. Once I did, I learned how valuable an ethnographic approach to surveys can be. In my previous academic work, I had embedded myself into a scientific community for more than three years and I disregarded surveys as a comparatively superficial research technique. In my consultancy work, I have also encountered sharp criticism of the way surveys are used in practice: Erica Hall calls surveys “the most dangerous research tool,” and Sam Ladner’s fabulous guide to doing ethnography in the private sector (2012:17), emphasizes the value of ethnography that captures the perspectives of research participants, as opposed to tools like surveys that reflect the “etic” position of researchers. Yet, if there’s something I am learning about my ongoing transition to the private sector, it is that I must be flexible about methods and become more creative about...

Should User Research Be Funny?

MEGHAN MCGRATH IBM PechaKucha Presentation The jokes people tell about their work can be a rich source of insight for user researchers. Known as “workplace humor” or “occupational humor,” these jokes refer to experiences where the user's pain or delight is instantly recognizable because it is so pervasive. This PechaKucha will discuss examples and practices your team can use to identify, synthesize, and leverage the occupational humor that resonates with specific classes of users, in order to build a more nuanced understanding of those users. Meghan McGrath is the Design Lead for IBM Z's Security group in New York. 2017 EPIC Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918, epicpeople.org/intelligences)...

When ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’: Performance, Complicity and Constraints on Communication in Corporate Attempts at Innovation

JOSH KAPLAN When ethnographic or market research is employed to help de-risk potential products and services, the focus is typically on understanding markets, cultures and contexts external to the organization that would launch them. This paper shifts the focus to the sorts of organizational practices, beliefs, and dynamics inside large corporations, which can create the conditions in which new products are brought to market despite evidence of their risk of failure....

No One Reason for It: Workforce Diversity, Cultural Complexity, and Staff Retention at BMW MINI

FIONA MOORE Royal Holloway University of London This case study is based on an ethnographic investigation conducted in 2003 at the BMW Plant Oxford automobile factory focusing on issues of staff retention. The study found that the workforce, as well as being diverse in conventional terms, was also divided in less immediately identifiable ways, and different groups within the workplace had quite different expectations from the experience or working there, and a programme to overcome these problems was developed....

Bringing Attention to Problem Solving and Meaningfulness at Work: How Ethnography Can Help Answer Difficult Business Questions

CAROLE CHARLAND Sapiens Strategies Inc. KAREN HOFMAN Sapiens Strategies Inc. A local division of a multinational manufacturer was experiencing declining enagagement and perceptions of leadership (measured in employee satisfaction surveys). In anticipation of coming waves of organizational change, they asked the research team to explore how “nostalgia” may be contributing to these issues and how they might define the unique culture of the division. Combining ethnographic observations with other qualitative methods, across all levels and departments of the plant, the team uncovered other, more critical issues. Having built a trusting relationship with senior management of the plant, the team used extensive work sessions to help them to understand issues from employee perspectives. This new empathy was conveyed during validation session that spurred initiatives to address a variety of isssues that had been contributing to the problems that initially spurred the project....

“Delivering the Secret Sauce”: Culture and Identity in a Corporate Merger

BARRY DORNFELD Principal, The Center for Applied Research, Inc. This case study explores work around a merger designed to bring together two firms of different scale, history, and identity in the hospitality industry – a large global conglomerate purchasing a small American boutique brand – while keeping the boutique company's customer- and design-centric culture. It looks at mergers as salient situations for surfacing issues around organizational culture, as companies often come together across multiple differences and brings culture to the surface. CFAR, a management consulting firm, was brought in to understand the cultural differences and challenges the merger created, and help build bridges between the two companies to sustain the boutique's culture in the service of business performance and growth....

Organizational Culture as Lazy Sensemaking: What Ethnographers Can Do about Fundamental Attribution Error

by LAURA A. MCNAMARA, Sandia National Laboratories This essay represents the opinion of the author and not any of her employers, past or present. The Fundamental Attribution Error Lately I’ve been ruminating on the fundamental attribution error, also known as correspondence bias. Think of it as a lazy kind of sensemaking, a just-so story that lets us place more agency in individuals than is probably warranted. It’s a common category error (at least among the Western psych undergrads who volunteer for experimental lab credits) that describes our tendency to attribute undesirable outcomes to individual traits, without attending to the role of situational factors in shaping behavior and decision-making. Victim-blaming is an obvious example of attribution error: Really, what kind of idiot shops at that particular convenience store in that particular neighborhood at 2AM? (Answer: A young single mother who works two jobs, one of which lets her off after midnight, and she knows she’s about to run out of diapers. That’s who.) Fundamental...

Merging Institutional Logics and Negotiated Culture Perspectives to Help Cross-Sector Partnerships Solve the World’s Most Wicked Problems

SARAH EASTER Abilene Christian University MARY YOKO BRANNEN University of Victoria Showcasing a sixteen-month ethnographic study of a coalition to end homelessness in Western Canada, we show how the integration of two theoretical perspectives—institutional logics and negotiated culture—can be used as complementary, yet distinct lenses to better inform the practice of cross sector partnerships which tackle the world’s wicked problems. In doing so, we highlight how we were able to holistically capture the meaning systems at work in such multi-faceted partnerships resulting in a better understanding of how partnerships can work across difference to affect positive social change. In particular, we capture how multiple stakeholders make sense of a partnership’s identity in a variety of different ways based upon meaning systems with which they identify at multiple levels as well as how they enact bridging skills across meaning-related boundaries to promote more effective partner interface. Keywords: cultural dynamics, negotiated...

Cultural Change Management in Organizations from Competing Perspectives

ALLEN W. BATTEAU Wayne State University GLADIS CECILIA VILLEGAS Universidad de Medellin Since the 1980s, it has generally been accepted that corporations have cultures, and that corporate culture bears an important, if poorly understood, relationship to corporate performance. Figuring out how to measure, fine-tune, and adjust corporate culture has been a cottage industry within management consulting ever since, employing numerous psychologists, sociologists, management theorists, communication specialists, and occasionally anthropologists. Corporate cultures have been variously characterized as strong, weak, open, closed, flexible, rigid, innovative, traditional, or (more typically) some mélange of all of these. To better understand the relationship between corporate culture and corporate performance, perhaps it would be better to understand culture as a living, breathing entity, not a museum specimen to be examined under laboratory conditions – ethnographically, that is, in a natural rather than artificial environment. In...

How ‘Doing Ethnography’ Fostered Collaboration in Two Organizations

DANIELA CUARON Empathy Case Study—This case study discusses the role ethnography played in fostering collaboration across two organizations during a research project. It explores how the opportunity for collaboration emerged, why it was seized upon, and what it meant for the project. The case study looks at the project challenges and mishaps and clarifies why in spite of this it is believed to be successful. It analyses the impact on people's perceptions of the project outcome and what this meant for our client. Keywords: organizational culture, agency collaboration, design research, government...