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...
This case examines an effort by San Francisco-based Square to gain a better understanding of its customers who reside outside of major metropolitan areas. The first part of the case provides detail on research: a mobile ethnography study of small business owners conducted over a two-week period at the end of 2016 followed by in-person interviews of a select group of participants. The second half offers a discussion of the research findings, including the attributes and perspectives shared by small business owners. The research and analysis suggest that the sense of community in small towns colors every facet of small business, from the deep connections that proprietors feel with their customers, other business owners, and their community as a whole. The commercial and social aspects of businesses in small towns can't be separated. Often, businesses act as a force that helps keep the community viable. Moreover, the needs of small business owners in the heartland differs from their counterparts in larger...
by LAITH ULABY, Shyp
Conducting research with small businesses can pose many challenges, but these same dynamics also make ethnography one of the most rewarding and potentially impactful ways to study them. I have worked with small businesses in academic contexts as well as with a UX research consultancy, a big tech company, and now a startup, and I hope these perspectives and tips will be useful if you find yourself conducting ethnography with small businesses.
Why Small Businesses?
By some estimates there are over 28 million small businesses in the USA today, which compose over half the nation’s economic output and are the leading creators of jobs. They are also an important vehicle for economic empowerment and mobility for women, immigrants, and communities of color.
The importance of small businesses is not unique to the USA: Facebook, Google, and other companies are working overtime to capture the small business market in so-called “emerging markets”. In India alone, small businesses employ close to 40% of the workforce....
This paper discusses a collaborative research model, referred to as ‘The Art of Empathy’. This is a model developed to integrate ethnographic practices in small budget economies. The paper aims to contribute to the variety of working approaches to ethnography in business, exploring the work to be done in straddling the delicate balance between growing and enabling ethnographic thinking without contributing to it’s de-enrichment and commoditization. Key words: client collaboration, capability building, and design research....
This paper examines the often taken-for-granted role of ‘place’ and geography (cities, neighborhoods) in business ethnography, using research on small business as a case-in-point. Most studies of small businesses tend to focus directly on businesses themselves, eliding from consideration the social and physical environment in which they are situated. Yet especially for businesses that operate in an actual physical location, place infuses all they do: how they organize their operations, what they care about, the way they are perceived by customers and potential customers, the reputations they develop, where they cluster, and the kind of communication they engage in.