Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Tutorial: Designing Ethnofutures Research Projects


Learn how to design ethnofutures research projects and expand the time horizons of your work.


This tutorial was conducted at EPIC2021. Exercises and discussions have been omitted to protect the privacy of participants.

How do you take ethnographic data from today and turn it into futures forecasts, scenarios, personas, and stories about how the world could be different in ten years? How do you define a “futures” research domain, develop an ethnofutures interview process, and scope the right people to interview? And once you have your data, how do you use it to develop an informed, provocative view of the long-term future?

Researchers leaders from the Institute for the Future (IFTF), a 50+ year nonprofit futures research group, will unpack the structure of an ethnofutures project, which translates ethnographic material collected in the present into imaginative but grounded stories and scenarios of the future.

First, the instructors will introduce essential analytic categories from applied foresight research: signals, drivers, and forecasts. Then they will outline the design and execution of two ethnofutures projects, one on the future of immigration and one on the future of social VR. We’ll work in pairs to apply these research designs to one of our current projects, then get feedback on key questions. We will consider, for example, how to frame our research topics in a more future-focused way, how to structure an interview to elicit stories of anticipation, and how to integrate the data with other kinds of evidence to create futures forecasts. We will conclude by considering where ethnofutures approaches might be championed within our organizations or practice.

Instructors will draw on years of experience teaching the skills of foresight to students, clients, and stakeholders of many disciplinary backgrounds.


Rod Falcon brings his extensive experience directing research and teams to his current role co-leading IFTF Vantage Partnership. With a deep background in public health policy, he has served in several different capacities at IFTF since 1995, including leading the Food Futures and Health Futures programs and leading research for the Tech Futures program. In the course of his work, Rod speaks to executive audiences and helps them find innovative strategies for participating in the global economy. His research focus areas have included personal health technologies, communication and messaging practices in the workplace and home, social networks and abundant connectivity, and health-aware environments. Rod holds a BA in American history and a Master’s of Public Policy.

Lyn Jeffery is a cultural anthropologist who collects stories of change from around the world and tracks the new social practices that make you shake your head in wonder or concern about where we’re heading. Her core interest is in exploring how people make sense of the rapidly shifting world around them, whether it’s a “left-behind” child in a Sichuan village, an executive in a large multinational organization, or an amateur musician experimenting with new VR instruments. She has enduring interests in mobility, social media, communication and collaboration, and over thirty years of experience doing research in China. Specific methodological interests include group processes for insight generation and immersive learning. An IFTF Distinguished Fellow, Lyn leads IFTF’s Foresight Essentials program, delivering professional foresight training to public and private sector practitioners around the world. Lyn holds a BA in Chinese Studies and a PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Vanessa Mason is the research director for IFTF Vantage Partnership, a network of future-smart organizations that support strategic foresight research into the urgent futures that will shape the next decade across the business, social and civic spheres. Her research and foresight work delivers and scales real-world impact with a focus on health and healthcare, equity, and technology. Previously, Vanessa worked in a variety of roles at the intersection of inclusive design, innovation and health, advancing product and business strategy for technology that advances health equity and programs and strategies that foster entrepreneurship among underrepresented populations. She is a frequent speaker and has been recognized as a 2018 Aspen Ideas Festival Spotlight Health Scholar, 40 Under 40 Tech Diversity Silicon Valley, 2016 New Leaders Council San Francisco Fellow, 200 Black Women in Tech to Follow on Twitter and as a 2016 TEDMED Research Scholar. Vanessa holds a BA in psychology from Yale University and an MPH in global health from Columbia University.


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