Your Client Relationship Is an Ethnographic Field

artwork by andres musta, faces drawn on name tags
by JOHN CURRAN, JC Associates John teaches the EPIC Course Leveraging Organizational Culture for Impact. 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 culture as well. The charity wanted...