Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Tutorial: Ethnographic Research Design


Cite this article:

2017 EPIC Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918,

Ethnography is closely associated with the core qualitative methods of interviewing and observation. But ethnographers in business often work with a broad range of other methods, from video and diary studies to surveys and sensors. This tutorial examines the relationship between research and design, producing data and producing things. It considers the research process as a design process and a wide range of methods across the research and design spectrum. Participants engaged in active exercises to examine creativity, complexity, compromise and choice in research design, and consider the role of stakeholder thinking. Finally, the tutorial encouraged researchers to conceptualize their work as a long-term endeavor beyond the boundaries of a discrete project, with tips for organizing data and files as well as creating quality criteria.

Participants were asked to prepare for this workshop by exploring and perhaps journaling about past projects that did not provide clients with their desired outcomes. They considered the methodological limitations of past ethnographic work (not simply the practical or logistical limitations), and when analyses have been rigorous, but somehow less impactful. After the workshop, participants were asked to read theory that explains human behavior, without regard for their disciplinary allegiance.

The video includes only the presentation portions of the tutorial.

Sam Ladner is a sociologist who studies the ways humans live, work, and play with digital tools. Her past work has included workplace studies of engineers, lawyers, and financial services workers, and consumer studies of mobile technology use and social media consumption. She is the author of Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in The Private Sector, and has taught research methods at several universities. She currently works as a principal UX researcher at Amazon. She received her PhD in sociology from York University and currently lives in Seattle with her husband.

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