public sector

Changing the Perspective of Government

EMMA SAUNDERS Empathy MAILYNN STORMON-TRINH Empathy STEPHANI BUCKLAND Previously Empathy Case Study—This case study highlights the value of ethnography in changing a client's perspective. New Zealand's productivity has been deceasing, and the government wants to reverse that trend. Empathy's government client believed that macro-level forces were having a major impact on the productivity of small businesses, and wanted to suggest ways for small businesses to directly combat those forces. Empathy conducted ethnographic research, and the results required the client to change their perspective. While the government client saw increased productivity as a means to increase the standard of living, ethnographic research revealed some small businesses see increased productivity as a threat to their values and standard of living. If the government wanted to increase productivity, they were going to have to change tact completely and start talking to and supporting small businesses in a way that took their fears, motivations, beliefs...

The Mixed-Up Files of a 21st Century Librarian: Changing Demographics, Conceptions of Democracy, and The Public Library

ALANNAH BERSON University of Chicago With the rise of the internet, the role of the public library as a distributor of education, skills, and cultural capital has come under question while continuing to grow increasingly vital. This paper examines how libraries are dealing with changing technology while negotiating their relationship with their diverse patron populations., Using the concept of chronotope, a specific space and time that gives rise to a particular understanding of a person's character or an idea, this paper explores conceptions of patrons through systematic assumptions about patrons’ background and needs. Through the library's continued inclusion of technology in its services, it seeks to reach out to more patrons and support existing ones. This paper makes clear the connections between the current state of the library, its diverse audience of patrons, and the need for new ways of measuring library usage to generate a more nuanced understanding of patrons....

Taking Sides in E-cigarette Research

RACHELLE ANNECHINO Critical Public Health Research Group, Prevention Research Center TAMAR ANTIN Critical Public Health Research Group, Prevention Research Center In the last ten years, an eclectic mix of electronic nicotine delivery products (‘e-cigarettes’) and practices have proliferated in the US with little restriction, producing a vast array of vaping mechanisms, flavors, and styles. At the same time, anti-tobacco movements have targeted e-cigarettes as a threat to public health and advocated for restricting e-cigarettes in much the same way as conventional cigarettes. While anti-vaping proponents associated with public health movements have typically regarded e-cigarettes as primarily harmful products that should be suppressed, vaping advocates regard e-cigarettes as harm reduction products that should be readily accessible to smokers. Distrust between these two warring “sides” animates the controversy over e-cigarettes. In our role as researchers conducting a qualitative study on e-cigarette use, we encountered...

#GoingEthno in the Indian Bureaucracy

AAKASH SOLANKI International Innovation Corps (IIC) at the University of Chicago SARVESH TEWARI International Innovation Corps (IIC) at the University of Chicago Case Study—Based on experience of working in the Department of School Education, Government of Haryana on a Management Information System being built to reduce administrative workload on teachers and bureaucrats, this case study describes how ethnography was used to understand and address the problem of technology adoption in a large bureaucracy. Ethnography helped the Department in framing the problem of adoption as one of lack of adequate Digital Literacy within the organization and in developing strategies to address it. Digital Literacy workshops were conducted to improve broader Digital Literacies in the Department, which improved literacy levels by 48%. For ensuring sustainability of this initiative, the Department instituted a continuous Digital Literacy program, which will support the adoption of multiple technology projects in the future. Keywords: Management...

Knowing a Country: A Post-Brexit Polemic

by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners "There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen." —Lenin 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...

Human-Centered Research in Policymaking

by CHELSEA MAULDIN, Public Policy Lab & NATALIA RADYWYL, Fjord Article 5 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives "[Aims] such as unslumming slums, catalyzing diversity, nurturing lively streets, are unrecognized today as objectives of city planning. Therefore, planners and the agencies of action that carry out plans possess neither strategies nor tactics for carrying out such aims. …although city planning lacks tactics for building cities that can work like cities, it does possess plenty of tactics. They are aimed at carrying out strategic lunacies. Unfortunately, they are effective." (Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961, 321) Growing density, climate change, economic instability, migration, the increasing penetration of information and communication technologies: these urban trends are pushing traditional city management approaches to their limit. It’s no surprise that the ‘smart city’ and related technology-oriented approaches are a leading innovation model among...

Ethnographies of Future Infrastructures

by LAURA FORLANO, IIT Institute of Design Article 4 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives On April 1, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced a $317 million federally funded initiative in textile innovation and manufacturing—a national consortium of public and private organizations to be led by MIT. It’s only the most recent project of the Obama administration’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a major effort to re-invigorate the American economy. This ambitious initiative to build manufacturing infrastructure nationwide plans an initial network of 45 Manufacturing Innovation Institutes over 10 years. Led by non-profit organizations, the institutes partner universities, businesses and government agencies with the aim of bridging the gap between basic and applied research in key manufacturing areas such as additive manufacturing (eg, 3D printing), digital manufacturing, lightweight metals, semiconductors, advanced composites, flexible hybrid electronics and integrated photonics. The...

Innovation Teams, Mundane Innovation, and the Public Good

Andrew Schrock
by ANDREW RICHARD SCHROCK Article 2 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives The windows were dirty when I arrived on the fifteenth floor of City Hall. I had been hired as the Los Angeles’ Innovation Team’s in-house social communication researcher. My official title was “Design and Data Research Fellow,” although my badge read “intern,” which after 6 years in a PhD program was an unusual change. After a few weeks I got tired of looking through the grime, and trudged upstairs to the shared kitchen to locate a bottle of spray and a few paper towels. The only way to reach each side of the windows was to lean out, because they opened outward. I’m afraid of heights, so dangling halfway out the windows fifteen floors was enough to give me butterflies. Still, the cleaning plan was up to me. My work considers how people use technologies to improve civic life. I’m especially interested in how individuals become involved in institutional change through and around data. You hear this argument a...

Introduction to “Data, Design, and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives”

Derek Eder teaching at Migrahack #hackforchange. Christopher Whitaker via flickr CC BY 2.0
by CARL DISALVO, Georgia Institute of Technology This post introduces the series "Data, Design, and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives" edited by Carl DiSalvo. With all of the civic hackathons, civic tech meetups, and civic innovation teams bustling around the world, you’d think we'd have the challenges of government and civil society figured out—or at least be well on our way toward a more open and participatory, resourceful public sphere. Certainly the rhetoric around data, design, and civics suggests as much. But, of course, that’s not the case. The significant ethnographic and design research efforts in contemporary civics are showing us that government and civil society remain fraught arenas and that information and communication technology, along with the ubiquitous “data,” have exacerbated the challenges government, citizenship, and political action. In the rush to find solutions, what we find instead are more problems. But perhaps it is through these problems, through these messy conditions and patchwork...

Why I Joined EPIC: A GPS for the Organizational Rapids

by MIKE AGAR, Ethknoworks LLC [22 May 2017: We are deeply saddened to learn that Mike has passed away. If you don't know his work, we invite you to dive into Mike's website and learn about his tremendous research, writing, and impact. —ed.] I finally seriously joined EPIC. By "seriously" I mean "sent them money." It was high time. I'm a creole with academic, applied, and practitioner ancestry. As a practitioner over the last several years, I've been wildly successful working on a specific local problem and a spectacular failure at approval for the results of that work from higher levels of the bureaucracy. Most of this work was in the area of social services. There is a correlation here between local success and distant failure that’s fairly typical of social services. It might be that a social services focus differentiates the work I do from the usual EPIC project. More on that in a moment. First some background on the “I” in EPIC. It stands for "industry." My work in the world of commerce is limited, to put it generously....

Service Designing the City

NATALIA RADYWYL From cataclysmic recessions to unprecedented climate disasters, our cities seem awash with unintended consequences borne of complex times. While city administrations grapple with developing systemic supports, our infrastructure, communities and individual wellbeing are increasingly succumbing to the strain. This paper examines a practice gaining recent traction for improving our cities’ sustainable resilience: service design. As an inherently user-centered, reflexive and iterative practice, it develops service systems by drawing upon a range of disciplinary roles - from makers to strategists, and ethnographers to technologists. I examine three New York City-based case studies which each attempt to improve the services its residents use and need. While responding to the complex needs of the same city, these case studies illustrate the vastly different possibilities for improving broken civic services through institutional intervention: housing in civic service design, mobility in private sector service design,...

Ethnography inside the Walls: Studying the Contested Space of the Cemetery

ANNIKA PORSBORG NIELSEN and LINE GROES This paper discusses the merits and challenges of user-centered urban development projects, and what it means to apply an ethnographic approach to the study of urban spaces and the way people use them. We draw primarily on an ethnographic project carried out in two cemeteries in Copenhagen. The project focused on the involvement of local citizens – both everyday users of the cemeteries, as well as locals who do not use these urban spaces. We discuss the challenges and opportunities of ethnography in a complex space such as a cemetery, and consider additional ways to incorporate citizens into projects that have a direct impact on their lives. We conclude with a discussion of the project learnings and their implications for future urban planning....

You’ll Never Ride Alone: The Role of Social Media in Supporting the Bus Passenger Experience

PAUL GAULT, DAVID CORSAR, PETER EDWARDS, JOHN D NELSON and CAITLIN COTTRILL The paper discusses a study of social media usage within the context of a public transport operator. This involved fieldwork within three subsidiary companies of FirstGroup alongside a content analysis of the individual Twitter feeds they operate and the conversations they generate through them to engage with passengers. A refiguring of the notion of social is taking place within these companies through their emergent strategies for utilizing social media. The findings showed how the companies address this by pursuing a persistent conversation with customers, facilitating the provision of real-time information and carefully managing their Twitter identity....

The Way to Design Ethnography for Public Service: Barriers and Approaches in Japanese Local Government

KUNIKAZU AMAGASA This paper introduces various barriers hindering the introduction of ethnography in support of public service design improvement in Japan, and discusses ways to overcome these barriers. Service design approaches using ethnography are gaining popularity in the public sector, especially in Europe. In Japan, however, local governments have adopted few or no ethnographic methods in order to improve public services. One of the most difficult barriers to the establishment of ethnographic approaches in Japan is the long-lasting relationships between citizens and local governments. Ethnographers engage in competition with citizens and are accused of bias, making it difficult for local governments to conduct ethnographic research freely and understand their citizens in depth. In order to overcome these barriers, this paper proposes three approaches about introducing areas, research protocols and organizations....