Tutorial: Using Ethnofutures to Build Resilience

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Combine ethnography and forecasting techniques to produce grounded future scenarios for products, services, organizations, and communities.

Instructors: JAN ENGLISH-LUECK (San Jose State University), ROD FALCON (Institute for the Future), ARMANDO AYALA (Meta), JASMINE LOW (Waymo), MELANIE BAILEY (Sage Intacct)

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Overview

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

  • Integrate basic forecasting methods with ethnographic data collection and interpretation
  • Integrate both data collection and analysis approaches to build resilience
  • Discover use cases for applying these approaches in your own projects and organizations

Ethnofutures combines ethnographic and forecasting techniques to produce grounded future scenarios for products, services, organizations, and communities. In this tutorial, researchers, designers, and strategists will learn the principles of ethnofutures and new tools for exploring and communicating resilient futures in their own work.

The session reviews essential skills and methodologies from applied foresight research and how to integrate them into ethnographic practice: signals (such as horizon scanning), drivers (aka, megatrends), and ethnographic futures interviews and observations that focus on groups at the leading edge of your research domain. Participants worked through concrete applications of ethnofutures, practice scenario building in small groups, and build use cases for foresight in their own research, planning, interpretive, and design practices.

To highlight how ethnofutures can be leveraged for resilience, we integrated the spirit of appreciative inquiry and the techniques of ethnographic evaluation that critically examine “success.” Different stakeholders in an organization define success, or a “best future,” using different criteria, and these definitions can change radically over time. Understanding success or best future in a more nuanced way helps identify who benefits, and who is most vulnerable, within alternative scenarios.

Critical to this process is the ability to find alternative sources of resilience, even when growth or innovation is difficult. These questions are best used when researchers work with decisions makers, whether the decisions are small operational choices or larger strategic decisions. Participants explored two key points of leverage: First, as we collect data, we can deliberately elicit cultural models of success/best outcome and find out how people actually live with such rules. Second, we can use ethnography to craft alternative scenarios, which both provoke and sustain organizational directions.

Instructors

Jan English‑Lueck is a Professor of Anthropology at San Jose State University and a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future. She has written ethnographies about the anthropology of work, science and technology among California’s alternative healers, and China’s scientists. She is also the author of several books on Silicon Valley, including Cultures@SiliconValley (second edition), winner of the American Anthropological Association’s 2006 Diana Forsythe Prize for the anthropology of science and technology. English-Lueck is Past President of the American Anthropological Association’s Society for the Anthropology of Work and was co-chair of EPIC2021.

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.

Armando Ayala is an applied anthropologist and practicing user experience (UX) researcher. He is currently a senior UX researcher at Meta, where he works on products that empower content creators to assess their content performance and grow in their creator journey. He has also worked at a variety of tech companies, including startups (TRNIO), UX agencies (UEGroup), and large tech firms (Google and Meta). His areas of interest consist of design research, design anthropology, product strategy, and qualitative and quantitative UX research methods. He holds a BA in psychology with a cultural anthropology minor, and an MA in applied anthropology.

Jasmine Low is an applied anthropologist exploring spaces where people, tech, and mobility meet. She works with the User Experience Research team at Waymo, advancing autonomous vehicle technology in ways that are relevant to diverse people and communities. Jasmine received an M.A. in Applied Anthropology from San Jose State University, where she conducted visitor experience research at The Tech Interactive, ethnographic research with Silicon Valley engineers and artists, and ethnographic VR projects with Dr. Jan English-Lueck and Tina Korani. Fun fact, Jasmine has given harp performances on Rome’s Spanish Steps and in California’s redwood forests.

Melanie Bailey is an applied anthropologist interested in technology, small business, and the futures of work. She is a UX Researcher at Sage Intacct, a cloud-based accounting technology company, doing discovery and evaluative research to identify opportunities and consider the future direction of product areas and designs. She received an MA in Applied Anthropology from San Jose State, where she conducted research on how small U.S. bookkeepers are coping with and adapting to changing accounting technology. She was also part of the Reengineering Nature team, conducting ethnographic research with Silicon Valley engineers and artists and working on the ethnographic VR project with Dr. Jan English-Lueck and Tina Korani.

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