Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Tutorial: Cultural Domain Analysis – Methods for Human Insight Research


Learn simple, yet powerful methods to understand shared cultural knowledge and mental models for user, market and organizational research.


This video has been edited to protect the privacy of participants in the live tutorial.

The cultural knowledge that influences our routine choices, behaviors and beliefs can be difficult to articulate. Cultural Domain Analysis (CDA) helps surface these perspectives on the world, revealing nuances about concepts that may be shared or distinct among groups. CDA approaches for collecting, analyzing and interpreting data offer deeper understandings of people that are essential for effective products, services, organizations and strategies.

This tutorial covers:

  1. An introduction to CDA and when to use it
  2. Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting the results with free lists and pile sorts
  3. Using multiple dimensional scaling maps and cluster analysis graphs to co-create insights with others

It will be an interactive session, including lecture, demonstrations, and hands-on exercises. Rosalyn will introduce you to two key data collection methods: free lists and pile sorts. In CDA we start with lists to define a cultural domain, which could be anything from colors or symptoms of illness, to concepts like roles, emotions or brands. Pile sorts engage participants in sorting through the most salient list of items to determine what goes with what. Each of these data collection methods are simple yet powerful ways to gain insight about the knowledge, perspectives and associations that frame people’s perceptions and behaviors.

Rosalyn will also demonstrate how to analyze free lists and pile sorts using multi-dimensional scaling and cluster analysis. These analytic methods facilitate the co-creation of insights with team members and clients. We will use real data sets.

The term “CDA” is less likely to be used in some fields of marketing and insights research, but the related methods of “concept mapping” and “brand mapping” are very much in line with what we learn in the course.


Rosalyn Negrón is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she is also Affiliate Faculty at the Sustainable Solutions Lab, and the Critical Ethnic & Community Studies graduate program. Rosalyn’s research examines the role of complex social environments on the decisions that people make for their social, economic, and physical well-being: these include migration and health decisions, identity negotiations, linguistic and educational choices. An experienced methodologist, she teaches research methods courses at all levels, with specialties in problem-centered transdisciplinary, mixed methods, and ethnographic research. Her research has been funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Ford Foundation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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